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School ban for Afghan girls, but Taliban leaders’ daughters play football, study medicine abroad

Islamic Emirate spokesperson, health minister, deputy foreign minister among two dozen Taliban leaders sending daughters to schools in Pakistan and Qatar.

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New Delhi: Even as Afghanistan’s Islamic Emirate continues to deny education to girls beyond the sixth grade, more than two dozen top Taliban leaders are educating their daughters at schools in Doha, Peshawar and Karachi, sources familiar with the movement have told ThePrint. 

The leaders include Health Minister Qalandar Ebad, Deputy Foreign Minister Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, and spokesperson Suhail Shaheen.

Two daughters of Suhail Shaheen study in state-regulated schools in Doha, home of the Islamic Emirate’s political office, along with his three sons, a source familiar with the family said. The older daughter, the source said, even played football for her school’s team.

Qalandar Ebad — a trained physician, with degrees from the Nangarhar University and Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences, Islamabad — ensured a medical education for his daughter, who now works as a doctor in Islamabad, sources said.

Stanikzai’s daughter, sources added, has completed her medical education in Doha, following her high school education at a well-known school.

ThePrint did not receive a response from spokesperson Shaheen’s office, seeking comment on Islamic Emirate officials who were educating their daughters overseas.

When they took over Afghanistan last year, authorities in the Islamic Emirate — as the Taliban call the country — repeatedly promised to open education for girls, but rolled back their decision hours after schools reopened on 23 March. 

“The leadership held its meeting recently and discussed in detail the girls schools,” Taliban spokesperson Bilal Karimi said. “They, however, decided to keep the schools closed until a further meeting.”

The Islamic Emirate has also removed women from employment, and restricted their ability to travel without a male relative. Last year, the Islamic Emirate’s Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice put up posters across Kabul, encouraging women to wear the all-enveloping burqa, though no official order has been issued.

Islamic Emirate leaders claimed last year that, in addition to problems related to curricula and uniforms, they lacked funding for schools. 

In January, though, the US special representative for Afghanistan, Tom West, said it would pay all teacher salaries if schools were reopened for girls.

Also Read: Afghanistan is facing severe crisis under Taliban. It gets worse with its ‘women situation’

Taliban children studying abroad

The children of several senior Islamic Emirate ministers and civil servants, a diplomatic source said, are now studying at ‘Iqra’ schools — which offer a mixture of modern education with Islamic subjects — in Peshawar and Karachi.

The daughters of at least four members of the Taliban’s powerful military commission are believed to have studied at Iqra schools, before the group seized Kabul last year.

Iqra schools — which combine religious-studies content traditionally offered in seminaries with subjects like English, the sciences and computers — aspire “to make Muslims and their children true Muslims”, the trust administering them says. 

The researcher Sabawoon Samim revealed in a report, released earlier this year, that one Taliban commander even ran his own Iqra-style school for girls in Quetta, complementing  traditional madrassa subjects with classes in mathematics, science and English.

In addition, Samim reported, top Taliban leaders were taking educated second wives. 

“The trend also goes along with some Taleban [sic] officials and commanders devaluing their existing wives for being rural, illiterate and ‘backward’ — not fit for the urban life some of them had experienced during exile and that was awaiting them after the takeover of Kabul,” Samim wrote. 

The Taliban functionaries who are educating their own daughters outside Afghanistan are thought to have spoken in favour of education for girls inside the Taliban’s inner councils

Shaheen and Stanekzai, one diplomatic source said, had argued against the Islamic Emirate’s decision to shut down girls’ schools. Last year, Shaheen said that Islamic Emirate policies had ensured that  “girls are going to schools and they are going to universities”. 

The pro-education group is thought to have had the support of Islamists with a seminarian background, like the Islamic Emirate’s de-facto deputy head of state, Sirajuddin Haqqani. Haqqani, diplomatic sources say, has the backing of Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Ghani Baradar and Minister of Defence Muhammad Yaqub.

Last week, a powerful coalition of Afghan clerics backed calls for girls’ schools to be reopened, arguing that the education of women had the support of Islamic law and scripture.

Also Read: Dad stuck under Taliban rule, Afghan teen in Delhi masters powerlifting ‘to empower women at home’

Resistance to girls’ education

The pro-education minority has, however, faced resistance from Pashtun traditionalists of Afghanistan’s southern districts, who dominate the government. 

Traditionalists argue that development aid is being used to blackmail the Taliban on girls’ education. They also claim that the girls’ education issue is being used to blackmail the Islamic Emirate on aid-related issues, and create divisions in its ranks. 

Key opponents of girls’ education, diplomatic sources say, include the Islamic Emirate’s head, Hibatullah Akhundzada, Chief Justice Abdul Hakim, and Minister of Religious Affairs Nur Muhammad Saqeb.

Islamic Emirate conservatives have also expressed concern around morality, like men teaching female students, as well as girls’ dress code and keeping students segregated in university.

Last year, Islamic Emirate Higher Education Minister Abdul Baqi Haqqani appeared to suggest secular education was of little value to the new regime, claiming modern studies were “less valuable” than clerical instruction, and promising to hire teachers with “values”. 

Education of girls has been a fraught issue in Afghanistan, with efforts to institute it by King Amanullah Khan in the 1920s and the pro-Soviet Union government that took power in 1978, leading to violent resistance against both regimes. 

Even after a democratic government was instituted following 9/11, resistance against education for girls remained widespread in swathes of rural Afghanistan.

In a review of education in Afghanistan, the United Nations noted that the number of girls in higher education increased from around 5,000 in 2001 to around 90,000 in 2018. 

Even though some 16 per cent of schools took only girls, in an effort to make education more acceptable to conservative parents, just 36 per cent of secondary school teachers were women, and remained concentrated in urban areas.

(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)

Also Read: Today is the last day Afghan women can take flights alone, its Virtue and Vice Ministry has ruled


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