The order from the Taliban’s ministry of higher education was short and demanded immediate implementation: Afghan women were to be banned from university education. And as the ban came into force, the group deployed baton wielding armed soldiers onto the streets of Kabul and other cities to stop female students entering higher education institutions. In some places, male students left their classes in protest against the order, and a Kabul university lecturer resigned from his post live on TV. As the world woke up to the news, international condemnations followed.
The right to education of Afghan girls must be defended as an end in itself. Not as a means to certain ends. But as we come to terms with Afghanistan’s not so new reality under the Taliban, it needs to be understood that the consequences of the policies pursued by the group will not only be calamitous for the country and its people, but the world at large.
For Afghan women and girls to overcome the challenges they face in regaining their rights, they need steadfast allies outside the country. Outrage must be matched by action, meaning practical and tangible steps to get the Taliban change their way. Given we what have seen, we cannot have high hopes that the group will be willing to compromise on the implementation of its ideology. The international community must act. The costs of inaction have been and will be far greater than the costs of action.
And for Afghanistan to ever get itself out of its longstanding circle of violence, disease and poverty, Afghan women and girls must be allowed to have access to education at all levels. Without it, there is no path to peace and stability in the country. Banning girls from secondary school education after the Taliban came into power has caused irreparable damage to the Afghanistan and its future. The near total ban on girls’ education – it is yet to be seen if the group will let primary school age girls back into schools – will condemn the country into the darkest corners of the dark-ages, the calamitous consequences of which will affect the whole region and beyond.
The international community must stand up to the Taliban not just because it is the right thing to do. They must do so out of national, regional and international self-interests. Taliban-ruled Afghanistan must no longer be seen as a humanitarian catastrophe, but a security threat to the world.
The people of Afghanistan were promised a “changed Taliban”. In words and actions, we have seen they are anything but. The “changed Taliban” narrative was a mirage sold by the group’s PR machine during the Doha talks. Facing the same old Taliban, determined in its will to rule the country in the same manner it did in the 1990s, the international community must change the way it deals with the group.
The Taliban have become well versed in double-gaming the world. They perfected it in the years and months before returning to power. Their calculated ambiguity on issues such as women’s rights and girls’ education kept the world hoping for the best yet not preparing for the worst. With international recognition becoming more elusive, the group’s leadership are seeking leverage vis-a-vi the international community. Removing women from the public view and banning girls getting an education, waiting out for the outrage to pass, and then using such issues in their dealings with the international community to gain concessions in return for some caveated change in policy, just enough to get acknowledged and keep the world engaged, is the playbook the world must no longer be prepared to fall for.
The world owes it to the Afghan women and girls to change its ways in dealing with the Taliban. Business as usual will only inflict more harm onto the people of Afghanistan.