Taliban divisions deepen as women rage over headscarf edict

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Arooza was angry and scared, keeping her eyes open for Taliban patrolling as she and a friend shopped in Kabul’s Macroyan neighborhood Sunday.

The math teacher feared that her large shawl, snug around her head, and loose tan coat would not satisfy the latest decree from the country’s religiously oriented Taliban government. After all, there was more than just her eyes showing. Her face was visible.

Arooza, who asked to be identified by a single name to avoid attracting attention, was not wearing the full burqa favored by the Taliban, who on Saturday issued a new dress code for women appearing in public. The edict said that only a woman’s eyes should be visible.

The decree by hardline Taliban leader Hibaitullah Akhunzada even suggested that women should not leave their homes unless necessary and outlines a series of punishments for male relatives of women who violate the code.

It was a severe blow to the rights of women in Afghanistan, who had lived in relative freedom for two decades before the Taliban seized power last August, when the United States and other foreign forces withdrew in the chaotic end of a war. 20 years old.

A lone leader, Akhunzada rarely travels outside southern Kandahar, the traditional heartland of the Taliban. He favors hardliners from the group’s earlier time in power, in the 1990s, when girls and women were largely barred from school, work and public life.

Like the Taliban’s founder, Mullah Mohammad Omar, Akhunzada enforces a strict brand of Islam that melds the religion with ancient tribal traditions, often blurring the two.

Akhunzada has taken the traditions of tribal villages where girls are often married at puberty and rarely leave their homes, calling it a religious claim, analysts say.

The Taliban have been divided between pragmatists and hardliners as they struggle to transition from an insurgency to a governing body. Meanwhile, his government has been dealing with a worsening economic crisis. And the Taliban’s efforts to gain recognition and help from Western nations have failed, in large part because they have failed to form a more representative government and have restricted the rights of girls and women.

Until now, hardliners and pragmatists in the movement have avoided open confrontation.

However, divisions deepened in March, on the eve of the new school year, when Akhunzada issued a last-minute decision that girls should not be allowed to go to school after completing sixth grade. In the weeks leading up to the start of the school year, senior Taliban officials had told reporters that all girls would be allowed to return to school. Akhunzada claimed that allowing older girls to return to school violated Islamic principles.

A senior Afghan who has met with the leaders and is familiar with their internal bickering said a cabinet minister expressed outrage at Akhunzada’s views at a recent leaders’ meeting. He spoke on condition of anonymity to speak freely.

Torek Farhadi, a former government adviser, said he believes Taliban leaders have chosen not to fight in public because they fear any perceived division could undermine their government.

“The leaders disagree on various issues, but everyone knows that if they don’t stick together, everything could fall apart,” Farhadi said. “In that case, clashes could start between them.”

“For that reason, the elders have decided to put up with each other, even when it comes to unacceptable decisions that are causing them a lot of fuss within Afghanistan and internationally,” Farhadi added.

Some of the more pragmatic leaders seem to be looking for quiet solutions to soften hardline decrees. Since March, there has been a growing chorus, even among the most powerful Taliban leaders, for older girls to go back to school while other repressive edicts are quietly ignored.

Earlier this month, Anas Haqqani, the younger brother of Sirajuddin, who heads the powerful Haqqani network, told a conference in the eastern city of Khost that girls have a right to education and would soon return to school, although they would not He did not say anything. when. He also said that women had a role in nation building.

“You will receive very good news that will make everyone very happy… this issue will be resolved in the next few days,” Haqqani said at the time.

In the Afghan capital of Kabul on Sunday, women wore the usual conservative Muslim dress. Most wore a traditional hijab, which consists of a headscarf and a long robe or coat, but few covered their faces, as the Taliban leader had indicated the day before. Those who wore burkas, a head-to-toe garment that covers the face and hides the eyes behind a net, were a minority.

“Women in Afghanistan wear hijabs, and many wear burqas, but this is not about hijabs, this is about the Taliban wanting to make all women disappear,” said Shabana, who sported shiny gold bracelets under her black coat. loose, her hair hidden behind a sequined black scarf. “It’s about the Taliban wanting to make us invisible.”

Arooza said the Taliban rulers are forcing Afghans to leave their country. “Why should I stay here if they don’t want to give us our human rights? We are human,” he said.

Several women stopped to talk. They all defied the last edict.

“We don’t want to live in a prison,” said Parveen, who like the other women only wanted to give a name.

“These edicts are trying to erase an entire gender and generation of Afghans who grew up dreaming of a better world,” said Obaidullah Baheer, a visiting professor at the New School in New York and a former professor at the American University in Afghanistan.

“It pushes families out of the country by any means necessary. It also fuels the grievances that would eventually turn into a full-scale mobilization against the Taliban,” he said.

After decades of war, Baheer said it would not have taken much for the Taliban to make Afghans content with their rule, “an opportunity the Taliban are rapidly squandering.”

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