Washington (AFP) – The United States and other Western countries on Thursday condemned the Taliban’s decision to shut girls secondary schools in Afghanistan just hours after reopening them, and urged the hardline Islamist movement to reverse course.
The joint statement from the foreign ministers of Britain, Canada, France, Italy, Norway and the US, plus the high representative of the European Union, said the decision Wednesday by the Taliban will harm the group’s prospects for legitimacy and Afghanistan’s “ambition to become a respected member in the community of nations.”
“The Taliban’s action contradicted its public assurances to the Afghan people and to the international community,” the Western nations said in their statement.
They called on the Taliban, which seized power last August as US forces withdrew from the country, “urgently to reverse this decision, which will have consequences far beyond its harm to Afghan girls.”
“Unreversed, it will profoundly harm Afghanistan’s prospects for social cohesion and economic growth.”
The signatories to the statement notably included Norway, which hosted landmark talks between the Taliban and several Western diplomats in January.
While Norway’s government insisted it was placing “tangible demands” on the Taliban and that the talks in Oslo were in no way a legitimization of the movement, the head of the Norwegian Refugee Council said at the time that the lifting of sanctions on the Taliban was a critical step in the effort to save lives in Afghanistan.
The Taliban’s decision to keep schools shuttered for girls came after a meeting late Tuesday by senior officials in the southern city of Kandahar, the movement’s de facto power center and conservative spiritual heartland.
It followed months of work by the international community to address the issue of supporting teacher stipends, and came just as Afghan girls were eagerly heading back to school for the first time in seven months.
“Every Afghan citizen, boy or girl, man or woman, has an equal right to an education at all levels, in all provinces of the country.”