Deputy Minister of Health in Afghanistan, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, proves that the Taliban today are the same ones who ruled between 1996 and 2001. In his case, literally. A young Taliban spokesman named Stanikzai promised before CNN cameras in the 1990s that the ban on girls studying would be temporary. The fundamentalist with a long white beard criticized his own government’s ban on Afghan teenage girls studying in May. What was unknown at the time was that Stanikzai’s daughter already had a medical degree from the University of Qatar.
The daughter of the Taliban health minister, Qalandar Ebad, is also a doctor. While Afghans over the age of 12 have been denied secondary education since August 2021 and university studies since December 20, two daughters of Suhail Saheen – appointed representative to the United Nations – attend a public school in Doha, the capital of Qatar. Afghans are also forbidden from engaging in sports. Not the older of Saheen’s two offspring, who plays soccer for her school team, according to Indian newspaper The Print.
Afghanistan is the only country in the world that bans all adolescent girls over the age of 12 from education. And even in some particularly conservative parts of Afghanistan, where there aren’t even primary schools for girls, all girls, regardless of age, are effectively banned. The decision of the fundamentalists has meant that 2.5 million Afghan girls and young women of school age cannot go to university. Another 1.2 million girls have been excluded from secondary and university education, according to Unesco data.
In Afghanistan, it was an open secret that some members of the Taliban government were enrolling their daughters in institutes and universities in Qatar and Pakistan, the two countries that hosted the fundamentalist leaders until their return to power in August 2021. On August 7th, February 2022, a report by a network of analysts in the Asian country, the Afghanistan Analysts Network, confirmed what was stated in the report Who goes to school? was already more than a rumor. Are Taliban attitudes starting to change from within?, based on 30 interviews, nine of which were with so-called “senior Taliban officials”.
The Afghan radicals, who have lived in Quetta (Pakistan) since 2001 or in Doha (Qatar) since the beginning of the last decade, not only allowed and still allow their daughters to attend schools in these countries. They also prefer to enroll their offspring in modern schools rather than madrassas, based on learning the Qur’an and religious education. A senior Taliban official quoted in the text, still based in Qatar, clarifies: “In Qatar, only one of the 26 families of Taliban leaders sends their son to a madrasah; the rest send their sons and daughters to modern Qatari and Pakistani schools. Taliban members and their families live here [en Qatar] They strongly demand modern education and nobody opposes it, neither for boys nor for girls of any age.”
When the Taliban took power again on August 15, 2021, some members of the fundamentalists’ representative office in Doha returned to Kabul. At the time, according to the Afghan think tank’s report, two members of the Taliban negotiating team said they faced the dilemma of settling their families in Afghanistan or leaving them in Qatar. These two fundamentalists expressed concern about “the disruption this would cause to the education of boys and girls”.
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Evolution or hypocrisy?
The report’s author, Afghan analyst Samin Sabawoon, replied by email to this newspaper that this apparent contradiction by the Taliban “can hardly be construed as hypocrisy”.
“Given that, why Afghan girls are being denied an education is a complicated question [los talibanes] who have a more developed mind [sobre la educación femenina] they are not the ones with absolute power over decision-making. Inside the Taliban, supreme leader, [Haibatulá Ajundzadá] it is ideologically the ultimate source of decision-making. The supreme leader is a conservative mullah who does not support girls’ schools. So he orders the ban and all other members of the movement have to obey him from an ideological point of view,” affirms this analyst, adding that “there is an evolution in the mindset of many senior Taliban leaders.”
The report’s author attributes this alleged development to the influence of life in places like Peshawar, Pakistan, Doha and other Gulf cities. “These Taliban leaders have lived in a different, modern society where girls’ education is a basic human right and a normal part of life, and that has influenced their perception.” That the Taliban “send their daughters to schools and universities , is, in his opinion, clear evidence” in this sense.
This development, to which Sabawoon alludes, is only benefiting her daughters at the moment and not the rest of the young Afghans who have not only seen themselves being denied entry to university, but are even aspiring to it. At the end of January, the Taliban government announced that the students would not even be admitted to the Konkour, the university entrance exam in Afghanistan.
Moreover, some of them had already seen how they were prevented from remaining in the classrooms even before the Taliban closed the university doors to Afghans. Under the pretext that some courses are “not suitable for women”, the Taliban had banned or restricted women’s access to certain degrees or courses such as journalism, engineering, mathematics or English.
Foreign languages are taboo for normal Afghans. But the senior officials of the Taliban regime, whose daughters study abroad, not only do not forbid them to learn languages, they actually encourage it. The Afghanistan Analysts Network report notes that some fundamentalists with daughters enrolled in Qatar “chosen private schools run by Pakistanis living in Qatar, which followed a Pakistani curriculum and used English as the language of instruction.”
Nilufar, the fictional name of a 19-year-old Afghan university student campaigning for women’s right to education in her country, via WhatsApp contradicts the analyst who wrote the report: “Afghans are excluded from education while they broadcast sending their daughters to universities abroad is the most hypocritical thing the Taliban can do.” And he concludes: “By the way, what haven’t the Taliban done to this country?”
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