US cancels Taliban talks over girls' education reversal
Kabul, Mar 26: The United States has announced that it has canceled planned talks with the Taliban after the rulers of Afghanistan made a U-turn on the topic of girls" education, shuttering girls out of middle and high schools hours after doors were opened.
"We have canceled some of our engagements, including planned meetings in Doha around the Doha Forum, and have made clear that we see this decision as a potential turning point in our engagement," State Department deputy spokeswoman Jalina Porter said.
Women"s rights and education of girls were major causes for concern when the Taliban seized power amidst a hurried withdrawal of international forces in Afghanistan. After months of uncertainty, the Education Ministry last week announced it would open schools for all students, including girls, beginning Wednesday.
Schools closed abruptly
Hours after classes began, the ministry posted a new notice: "We inform all girls high schools and those schools that are having female students above class six that they are off until the next order."
The announcement was met with disappointment from girls who were turned away from schools and condemnation from international powers, who have been lobbying for women"s rights under the Taliban regime.
"This decision by the Taliban, if it is not swiftly reversed, will profoundly harm the Afghan people, the country's prospects for economic growth, and the Taliban's ambition to improve their relations with the international community," Porter told reporters.
"We also stand with Afghan girls and their families, who see education as a path to realizing the full potential of Afghanistan's society and economy," she added.
Female foreign ministers condemn move
A group of female foreign ministers from 16 countries around the world also expressed their disappointment in a joint statement on Friday.
"As women and as foreign ministers, we are deeply disappointed and concerned that girls in Afghanistan are being denied access to secondary schools this spring," the foreign ministers of Albania, Andorra, Australia, Belgium, Bosnia, Canada, Estonia, Germany, Iceland, Kosovo, Malawi, Mongolia, New Zealand, Sweden, Tonga and Britain said.
They said the decision "is particularly disturbing as we repeatedly heard their commitments to open all schools for all children."
"We call upon the Taliban to reverse their recent decision and to grant equal access to all levels of education, in all provinces of the country," they added.
The UN Security Council also held a closed-door discussion on the issue.
The Taliban had promised a softer rule when they returned to power last year, claiming they respect women"s rights in line with their interpretation of Islamic sharia law. They also said girls would be allowed to study till university.
However, the Islamist group has imposed a range of restrictions on women, more or less banning them from government jobs, policing what they wear, and keeping them from traveling out of their cities alone.
see/kb (AFP, AP)