KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – Aruza was in a rage and fear, keeping her eyes open on the Taliban on patrol when she and a friend were shopping on Sunday in the Macroyan district of Kabul.
The math teacher feared that her large shawl, tightly wrapped around her head, and her wide pale brown coat did not comply with the latest Taliban government decree, which is religiously governed. After all, it wasn’t just her eyes that showed. Her face was visible.
Aruza, who asked to be given only one name so as not to attract attention, did not wear the all-encompassing burqa favored by the Taliban, which on Saturday issued a new dress code for women appearing in public. The decree says that only a woman’s eyes should be visible.
A decree by tough Taliban leader Hibaitullah Ahunzada even urged women not to leave their homes unnecessarily and outlined a number of punishments for men, relatives of women, who violate the code.
It was a severe blow to the rights of women in Afghanistan, who for two decades lived with relative freedom before the Taliban seized power last August – when the United States and other foreign powers withdrew at the chaotic end of the 20-year war.
A recluse leader, Ahunzada rarely travels outside southern Kandahar, the traditional center of the Taliban. He prefers the harsh elements of the group’s previous stay in power, in the 1990s, when girls and women were largely barred from school, work and social life.
Like Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar, Ahunzada imposes a strict Islam that combines religion with ancient tribal traditions, often eroding both.
Ahunzada has taken a tribal village tradition where girls often marry during puberty and rarely leave their homes, and called it a religious requirement, analysts say.
The Taliban have been divided between pragmatists and hardliners as they fight for the transition from the rebels to the governing body. Meanwhile, their government is struggling with a worsening economic crisis. And the Taliban’s efforts to gain recognition and assistance from Western countries have failed, largely because they have not formed a more representative government and restricted the rights of girls and women.
Until now, supporters of hard line and pragmatism in the movement have avoided open confrontation.
However, disagreements deepened in March, on the eve of the new school year, when Akhunzada decided at the last minute that girls should not be allowed to go to school after the sixth grade. A few weeks before the start of the school year, senior Taliban officials told reporters that all the girls would be allowed to return to school. Ahunzada claimed that the return of the older girls to school violates Islamic principles.
A prominent Afghan meeting with the leadership and familiar with their internal quarrels said a senior cabinet minister expressed his outrage at Ahunzada’s views at a recent leadership meeting. He spoke on condition of anonymity to speak freely.
Torek Farhadi, a former government adviser, said he believed Taliban leaders had decided not to quarrel in public because they feared that any perception of partition could undermine their power.
“The leadership is not seen on a number of issues, but they all know that if you do not stick together, everything can fall apart,” Farhadi said. “In that case, they may start clashing with each other.”
“For this reason, the elders have decided to put up with each other, including when it comes to unpleasant decisions that cost them a lot of noise in Afghanistan and internationally,” Farhadi added.
Some of the more pragmatic leaders seem to be looking for quiet workarounds that will soften tough decrees. Since March, even among the Taliban’s most powerful leaders, the choir has stepped up to bring older girls back to school, quietly ignoring other repressive decrees.
Earlier this month, Anas Hakani, Sirajudin’s younger brother, who heads the powerful Haqqani network, told a conference in the eastern city of Khost that girls have the right to education and that they will return to school soon – though he did not say when. He also said that women play a role in nation building.
“You will receive very good news that will make everyone very happy … this problem will be solved in the coming days,” Hakani said at the time.
In the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Sunday, women wore the usual conservative Muslim dress. Most wore the traditional hijab, which consisted of a headscarf and a long robe or coat, but few covered their faces as ordered by the Taliban leader the day before. Those who wore the burqa, clothing from head to toe that covers the face and hides the eyes behind the net, were in the minority.
“Women in Afghanistan wear the hijab, and many wear the burqa, but it’s not about the hijab, it’s about the Taliban wanting to make all women disappear,” said Shabana, who wore bright gold bracelets under a flowing black coat. hair hidden behind a black handkerchief with sequins. “It’s about the Taliban wanting to make us invisible.”
Aruza said Taliban leaders are forcing Afghans to leave their country. “Why should I stay here if they do not want to give us human rights? We are people, ”she said.
Several women stopped to talk. They all challenged the latest decree.
“We don’t want to live in prison,” said Parvin, who, like other women, wanted to name only one.
“These decrees are trying to wipe out the entire sex and generation of Afghans who grew up dreaming of a better world,” said Abaidullah Bahir, a visiting scholar at the New York School and a former professor at the American University in Afghanistan.
“It forces families to leave the country in any necessary way. It also fuels resentment, which will eventually spill over into large-scale mobilization against the Taliban, ”he said.
After decades of war, Bahir said the Taliban would not need much to make Afghans content with their rule, “an opportunity the Taliban is rapidly losing.”
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