Kabul (Afghanistan) – A Taliban-run gathering of thousands of male religious and ethnic leaders ended on Saturday (Jul 2) by asking foreign governments to formally recognise their administration, but made no signals of changes on international demands such as the opening of girls’ high schools.
The Afghan economy has plunged into crisis as Western governments have withdrawn funding and strictly enforced sanctions, saying the Taliban government needs to change course on human rights, especially those of women.
“We ask regional and international countries, especially Islamic countries … to recognise the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan … release all sanctions, unfreeze (central bank) funds and support the development of Afghanistan,” the gathering’s participants said in a statement, using the group’s name for their government, which has not been formally recognised by any country.
The gathering was called to rubber-stamp the Taliban’s rule, and ahead of the meeting, officials said criticism would be tolerated and they could also discuss thorny issues such as secondary school education for girls.
Media were barred from the event, although speeches were broadcast on state media.
In speeches broadcast on state-run television, a small number of participants brought up girls’ and women’s education. The Taliban’s deputy leader and interior minister, Sirajuddin Haqqani, said the world had demanded inclusive government and education and these issues would take time.
But the group’s supreme leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, who is normally based in the southern city of Kandahar and rarely appears in public, said foreigners should not give orders.
Taliban officials presented the gathering as an opportunity for clerics to independently say how they wanted the country to be governed, but the meeting’s final declaration was mostly a regurgitation of their own doctrine.
It called for allegiance to Akhundzada, loyalty to the Taliban and the complete acceptance of sharia law as the basic principle of rule.
“By the grace of God, the Islamic system has come to rule in Afghanistan,” the declaration read.
“We not only strongly support it, but will also defend it. We consider this to be the national and religious duty of the entire nation.”
Since returning to power in August, the Taliban’s harsh interpretation of sharia law has imposed severe restrictions on Afghans – particularly women.
Secondary school girls have been barred from education and women dismissed from government jobs, forbidden from travelling alone, and ordered to dress in clothing that covers everything but their faces.
The Taliban have also outlawed playing non-religious music, banned human figures in advertising, ordered TV channels to stop showing movies and soaps featuring uncovered women, and told men they should dress in traditional garb and grow their beards.
The final declaration made no mention of girls’ schooling, but called on the government to pay “special attention” to modern education, as well as justice and the rights of minorities “in the light of Islamic law”.
It said the new government had brought security to the nation – despite an attack on the meeting Thursday by two gunmen that was claimed by the Islamic State group, which has regularly carried out bomb blasts and ambushes since the Taliban’s return.
The highlight of the clerics’ meeting was Friday’s appearance by Akhundzada, who has not been filmed or photographed in public since the Taliban returned to power.
The “Commander of the Faithful”, as he is known, rarely leaves the Taliban’s birthplace and spiritual heartland of Kandahar and apart from one undated photograph and several audio recordings of speeches, has almost no digital footprint.
In Geneva on Friday, the United Nations human rights chief urged the Taliban to look to other Muslim countries for inspiration on improving the rights of women in a religious context.
Addressing an urgent council debate on the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan, Michelle Bachelet said they were “experiencing the most significant and rapid roll-back in enjoyment of their rights across the board in decades”.
“I strongly encourage the de facto authorities to engage with predominantly Muslim countries with experience in promoting women and girls’ rights, as guaranteed in international law, in that religious context,” she said.
US officials, wary of releasing assets that could be used directly by the Taliban, are currently meeting with them in Qatar to see how they might be able to free up some funds to provide relief to tens of thousands affected by the recent earthquake.