US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has warned the Taliban that the United States will impose “costs” on the group if it does not reverse its recent ban on women attending universities in Afghanistan.
Blinken said on Thursday that the Taliban-led government in Kabul will not be able to improve relations with the rest of the world if it continues to deny Afghan women their basic rights.
“They tried to sentence Afghan women and girls to a dark future with no opportunities,” Blinken said during an end-of-year press conference in Washington, DC.
“And the bottom line is that no country will be successful — let alone thrive — if it denies half of its population the opportunity to contribute.
“And to be clear, we’re currently working with other countries — there will be costs if this isn’t reversed, if that hasn’t changed,” said Blinken, without specifying what the measures might include.
Afghanistan’s aid-dependent economy is already under heavy US and Western sanctions after the Taliban took over the country last year as part of the withdrawal of US troops, ending a 20-year occupation.
In response to widespread fears of a return to the harsh policies that dominated Taliban rule in Afghanistan in the 1990s, the group initially promised a more moderate government when it came to power in August 2021.
However, the move announced earlier this week to suspend higher education for women sparked outrage around the world, including in several majority-Muslim countries, which called on the Taliban to reverse the decree.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavusoglu said on Thursday that the ban was “neither Islamic nor humane.”
“What is the damage to women’s education? What damage is it doing to Afghanistan? “Cavusoglu said. “Is there an Islamic explanation? On the contrary, our religion, Islam, is not against education; on the contrary, it promotes education and science.”
In the Afghan capital, around 50 mostly female demonstrators gathered in front of Kabul University. They held up banners and chanted: “Education is our right, universities should be opened.”
The previous day, students from Nangahar University in eastern Afghanistan also demonstrated and male medical students dropped out of exams to protest the expulsion of their female classmates.
The Taliban have defended the restrictions, saying they are aimed at protecting the “national interest” and “honor” of women.
Acting Minister of Higher Education Nida Mohammad Nadim said in his initial statement on the matter to Afghan state broadcaster RTA that several reasons led to the decision, including female students who did not wear appropriate Islamic clothing and interactions between opposite-sex students.
“They didn’t pay attention to the hijab, they came with clothes that most women wear to go to a wedding,” he said.
Nadim also said during the interview that discussions on women’s education were ongoing.
Meanwhile, the decision continues to be met with widespread criticism. The wealthy nations of the Group of Seven (G7) said in a statement on Thursday criticizing the Taliban decree that gender-based persecution could constitute a crime against humanity.
In Washington, Blinken also said the ban would hurt any chance that the Taliban would improve their relations with other countries.
“Any prospect that the Taliban are looking for improved relations with the world and the international community, what they want and that we know they need, will not happen if they continue on this course,” he said.