KABUL: The Taliban prohibition on girls’ education shows the movement’s ultra-conservatives retain tight control of the Islamist group, and exposes a power struggle that puts at risk crucial aid for Afghanistan’s desperate population, experts say.
The ban has triggered international outrage and even left many in the Taliban movement baffled by the decision.
“The order was devastating,” a senior Taliban member told AFP. “The supreme leader himself interfered.”
All Taliban officials who spoke to AFP on the subject did so on condition of anonymity, due to the sensitivity of the topic.
Secondary schools for girls were ordered to shut last month, just hours after being reopened for the first time since the Taliban’s return to power in August.
The shocking U-turn came after a secret meeting of the group’s leadership in the city of Kandahar, the Taliban’s de facto power centre.
Officials have never justified the ban, apart from saying the education of girls must be according to “Islamic principles”.
But one senior Taliban official told AFP that Supreme Leader Hibatullah Akhundzada and some other senior figures were “ultra-conservative on this issue” and dominated the discussion.
Two groups — the urban and the ultra-conservatives — have emerged in the movement, he said.
“The ultra-conservatives have won this round,” he added, referring to a group of clerics including Chief Justice Abdul Hakim Sharai, Minister for Religious Affairs Noor Mohammad Saqeb and Minister for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice Mohammad Khalid Hanafi.
The clerics feel excluded from government decisions and voicing their opposition to girls’ education is one way to restore their influence, said Ashley Jackson, a London-based researcher who has worked extensively on Afghanistan.
She told AFP the “outsized influence of this out-of-touch minority” has prevented the country from moving ahead with something the vast majority of Afghans favour — including much of the leadership.
“It shows that Kandahar remains the centre of gravity for Taliban politics,” said International Crisis Group analyst Graeme Smith.
A senior Taliban member said the hardliners were trying to appease thousands of fighters who hail from the deeply conservative countryside.