A U.N. report on Monday strongly criticized the Taliban for carrying out public executions, lashings and stonings since seizing power in Afghanistan, and called on the country's rulers to halt such practices. In the past six months alone, 274 men, 58 women and two boys were publicly flogged in Afghanistan, according to a report by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, or UNAMA. “Corporal punishment is a violation of the Convention against Torture and must cease,” said Fiona Frazer, the agency's human rights chief. She also called for an immediate moratorium on executions. The Taliban foreign ministry said in response that Afghanistan’s laws are determined in accordance with Islamic rules and guidelines, and that an overwhelming majority of Afghans follow those rules. “In the event of a conflict between international human rights law and Islamic law, the government is obliged to follow the Islamic law,” the ministry said in a statement. The Taliban began carrying out such punishments shortly after coming to power almost two years ago, despite initial promises of a more moderate rule than during their previous stint in power in the 1990s. At the same time, they have gradually tightened restrictions on women, barring them from public spaces, such as parks and gyms, in line with their interpretation of Islamic law. The restrictions have triggered an international uproar, increasing the country’s isolation at a time when its economy has collapsed — and worsening a humanitarian crisis. Monday's report on corporal punishment documents Taliban practices both before and after their return to power in August 2021, when they seized the capital of Kabul as U.S. and NATO forces withdrew after two decades of war. The first public flogging following the Taliban takeover was reported in October 2021 in the northern Kapisa province, the report said. In that case, a woman and man convicted of adultery were publicly lashed 100 times each in the presence of religious scholars and local Taliban authorities, it said. In December 2022, Taliban authorities executed an Afghan convicted of murder, the first public execution since they took power the report said. The execution, carried out with an assault rifle by the victim’s father, took place in the western Farah province before hundreds of spectators and top Taliban officials. Zabihullah Mujahid, the top government spokesman, said the decision to carry out the punishment was “made very carefully," following approval by three of the country’s highest courts and the Taliban supreme leader, Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada. There has been a significant increase in the number and regularity of judicial corporal punishment since November when Mujahid repeated comments by the supreme leader about judges and their use of Islamic law in a tweet, the report said. Since that tweet, UNAMA documented at least 43 instances of public lashings involving 274 men, 58 women and two boys. A majority of punishments were related to convictions of adultery and “running away from home," the report said. Other purported offenses included theft, homosexuality, consuming alcohol, fraud and drug trafficking. In a video message, Abdul Malik Haqqani, the Taliban’s appointed deputy chief justice, said last week that the Taliban’s Supreme Court has issued 175 so-called retribution verdicts since taking power, including 79 floggings and 37 stonings. Such verdicts establish the right of a purported victim, or relative of a victim of a crime to punish or forgive the perpetrator. Haqqani said the Taliban leadership is committed to carrying out such sentences. After their initial overthrow in the U.S. invasion of 2001, the Taliban continued to carry out corporal punishment and executions in areas under their control while waging an insurgency against the U.S.-backed former Afghan government, the report said. UNAMA documented at least 182 instances when the Taliban carried out their own sentences during the height of their insurgency between 2010 and August 2021, resulting in 213 deaths and 64 injuries. Many Muslim-majority countries draw on Islamic law, but the Taliban interpretation is an outlier. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called a Taliban ban on women working an unacceptable violation of Afghan human rights. On April 5, Afghanistan's Taliban rulers informed the United Nations that Afghan women employed with the U.N. mission could no longer report for work. Aid agencies have warned that the ban on women working will impact their ability to deliver urgent humanitarian help in Afghanistan. The Taliban previously banned girls from going to school beyond the sixth grade and women from most public life and work. In December, they banned Afghan women from working at local and non-governmental groups — a measure that at the time did not extend to U.N. offices. Under the first Taliban regime from 1996 to 2001, public corporal punishment and executions were carried out by officials against individuals convicted of crimes, often in large venues such as sports stadiums and at urban intersections.
A ground assault by the Taliban killed the Islamic State militant who spearheaded the August 2021 suicide bombing at the Kabul airport that left 13 U.S. troops and about 170 Afghans dead during the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, U.S. officials said Tuesday. Initially, neither the U.S. — nor apparently the Taliban — were aware that the mastermind was dead. He was killed during a series of battles early this month in southern Afghanistan between the Taliban and the Islamic State group’s affiliate, according to several officials. But in the past few days, U.S. intelligence confirmed “with high confidence” that the Islamic State leader had been killed, a senior administration official said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters. Over the weekend, the U.S. military began to inform the parents of the 11 Marines, the sailor and the soldier who were killed in the blast at Abbey Gate, and they shared the information in a private group messaging chat. The father of one of the Marines said the death of his son's killer brings little comfort. Also Read: UN says leaving Afghanistan would be 'heartbreaking' “Whatever happens, it’s not going to bring Taylor back and I understand that,” Darin Hoover, the father of Staff Sgt. Darin Taylor Hoover, said in a phone call with The Associated Press. “About the only thing his mom and I can do now is be an advocate for him. All we want is the truth. And we’re not getting it. That’s the frustrating part.” Hoover said he and his son’s mother, Kelly Henson, have spent the past year and a half grieving his death and praying for accountability from the Biden administration for the handling of the withdrawal. He added that the Marines provided only limited information to him and did not identify the Islamic State leader or give the circumstances of his death. U.S. officials declined to provide many details because of sensitivities in the intelligence gathering. The administration official said it was their “moral responsibility” to let the victims’ families know that the “mastermind” and “person most responsible for the airport attack” had been taken off the battlefield. The official added that intelligence officials determined that the leader had “remained a key plotter and overseer” for the group. Also Read: UN to review presence in Afghanistan following Taliban ban Several officials said the U.S. played no role in the killing and did not coordinate at all with the Taliban. The administration official called the Taliban action “significant” and said the U.S. only learned of the operation through its “over the horizon” intelligence capabilities. Hoover is among a group of 12 Gold Star families that have kept in touch since the bombing, supporting one another and sharing information through the messaging chat. The chat was created by Cheryl Rex, the mother of Marine Lance Cpl. Dylan Merola, who died in the blast. Rex, who has been a vocal critic of the Biden administration’s handling of the withdrawal, told the AP it was through the chat group that they were informed late Monday about the killing as they awaited official confirmation from U.S. military officials. The fallen service members were among those screening the thousands of Afghans frantically trying on Aug. 26, 2021, to get onto one of the crowded flights out of the country after the brutal Taliban takeover. The scene of desperation quickly turned into one of horror when a suicide bomber attacked. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility. Also Read: UN: 3,300 Afghan staff stay home over Taliban ban on women The blast at Abbey Gate came hours after Western officials warned of a major attack, urging people to leave the airport. But that advice went largely unheeded by Afghans desperate to escape the country in the last few days of an American-led evacuation before the U.S. officially ended its 20-year presence. The Afghanistan-based offshoot of the Islamic State — called Islamic State-Khorasan — has up to 4,000 members and is the Taliban’s most bitter enemy and top military threat. The group has continued to carry out attacks in Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover, especially against the country’s minority groups. After the Trump administration reached a 2020 deal with the Taliban to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan and the Biden administration followed through on that agreement in 2021, there had been hope in Washington that the Taliban’s desire for international recognition and assistance for the country’s impoverished population might moderate their behavior. But relations between the U.S. and the Taliban have deteriorated further since they imposed draconian new measures banning girls from school and excluding women from working for international aid and health agencies. However, a line of communication still exists between the two sides, led by the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan, Tom West. West’s contacts are primarily with Taliban officials in Kabul and not with the group’s more ideological wing based in Kandahar. The U.S. decision to withdraw all troops fueled the swift collapse of the Afghan government and military, which the U.S. had supported for nearly two decades, and the return to power of the Taliban. In the aftermath, President Joe Biden directed that a broad review examine “every aspect of this from top to bottom” and it was released earlier this month. The Biden administration in the publicly released version of the review largely laid blame on President Donald Trump for the deadly and chaotic 2021 withdrawal, which was punctuated by the suicide bombing at Abbey Gate. News of the killing came on the same day that Biden formally announced he will seek a second term as president, offering a reminder of one of the most difficult chapters of his presidency. The disastrous drawdown was, at the time, the biggest crisis that the relatively new administration had faced. It left sharp questions about Biden and his team’s competence and experience — the twin pillars central to his campaign for the White House. White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Tuesday the U.S. has “made clear to the Taliban that it is their responsibility to ensure that they give no safe haven to terrorists,” whether from al-Qaida or the Islamic State. “We have made good on the President’s pledge to establish an over-the-horizon capacity to monitor potential terrorist threats, not only from in Afghanistan but elsewhere around the world where that threat has metastasized as we have done in Somalia and Syria,” Kirby said in a statement. Yet Rex said the administration has not done enough to take responsibility for what happened at Abbey Gate. "I feel like this is the administration trying to get the pressure off of them for accountability by saying that we’re holding ISIS accountable for our kids’ death,” Rex said.
Under the Taliban, the mannequins in women’s dress shops across the Afghan capital of Kabul are a haunting sight, their heads cloaked in cloth sacks or wrapped in black plastic bags. The hooded mannequins are one symbol of the Taliban’s puritanical rule over Afghanistan. But in a way, they are also a small show of resistance and creativity by Kabul’s dress merchants. Initially, the Taliban wanted the mannequins to be outright beheaded. Read more: Ex-Afghan female lawmaker, guard shot dead at home Not long after they seized power in August 2021, the Taliban Ministry of Vice and Virtue decreed that all mannequins must be removed from shop windows or their heads taken off, according to local media. They based the order on a strict interpretation of Islamic law that forbids statues and images of the human form since they could be worshipped as idols — though it also meshes with the Taliban's campaign to force women out of the public eye. Some clothes sellers complied. But others pushed back. They complained they’d be unable to display their clothes properly or would have to damage valuable mannequins. The Taliban had to amend their order and allowed the shop owners to cover the mannequins’ heads instead. Shop owners then had to balance between obeying the Taliban and trying to attract customers. The variety of solutions they came up with are on display on Lycee Maryam Street, a middle-class commercial street lined with dress shops in a northern part of Kabul. The store windows and showrooms are lined with mannequins in evening gowns and dresses bursting with color and decoration — and all in various types of head coverings. In one shop, the mannequins’ heads were cloaked in tailored sacks made out of the same material as the traditional dresses they modeled. One, in a purple dress beaded with cowrie shells, had a matching purple hood. Another, in a red gown elaborately embroidered in gold, was almost elegant in a mask of red velvet with a gold crown on her head. “I can’t cover the mannequins’ heads with plastic or ugly things because it would make my window and shop look ugly,” said Bashir, the owner. Like other owners, he spoke to The Associated Press on condition he be identified only by his first name for fear of reprisals. Shop owners need keep things attractive — the economy has collapsed since the Taliban takeover and the ensuing cutoff of international financing, throwing almost the entire population into poverty. Elaborate dresses have always been popular in Afghanistan for weddings, which even before the Taliban were usually gender-segregated, giving women a chance to dress in their finest in the country’s conservative society. Under the Taliban, weddings are one of the few remaining opportunities for social gatherings. But with incomes so strained, they have become less elaborate. Bashir said his sales are half what they used to be. “Buying wedding, evening and traditional dresses is no longer a priority for people,” he said. “People think more about getting food and surviving.” Another shop owner, Hakim, shaped aluminum foil over his mannequins’ heads. It adds a certain flash to his merchandise, he decided. “I made an opportunity out of this threat and ban and did it so the mannequins are even more attractive than before,” he said. Not all can be so elaborate. In one shop, the mannequins in sleeveless gowns all had black plastic sacks over their heads. The owner said he couldn't afford more. Another shop owner, Aziz, said agents of the Ministry of Vice and Virtue regularly patrol shops and malls to make sure the mannequins are beheaded or covered. He was dismissive of the Taliban’s justification for the rules. “Everyone knows mannequins aren’t idols, and no one’s going to worship them. In all Muslim countries, mannequins are used to display clothes.” Read more: Australia pulls out of Afghanistan cricket series A small number of male mannequins can be seen in display windows, also with their heads covered, suggesting that the authorities are applying the ban uniformly. The Taliban initially said they would not impose the same harsh rules over society as they did during their first rule in the late 1990s. But they have progressively imposed more restrictions, particularly on women. They have banned women and girls from schooling beyond the sixth grade, barred them from most jobs and demanded they cover their faces when outside. On a recent day, a woman shopping on Lycee Maryam Street looked at the hooded mannequins. “When I see them, I feel that these mannequins are also captured and trapped, and I get a sense of fear,” said the woman, who gave only her first name, Rahima. “I feel like I see myself behind these shop windows, an Afghan woman who has been deprived of all her rights.”
Australia has pulled out of its upcoming men’s one-day international cricket series against Afghanistan, citing further restrictions on women’s rights imposed in the country by the ruling Taliban government. Australia was set to meet Afghanistan in the United Arab Emirates for three matches in March. But following consultation with the Australian government and other groups, Cricket Australia said Thursday it would scrap the series. Read more: Afghan women athletes barred from play, fear Taliban threats When Kabul fell to the Taliban in August 2021, the extremist group banned women from playing sports on the grounds that doing so would contravene Islamic laws requiring their hair and skin to be covered. In a statement on Thursday, Cricket Australia said the decision to withdraw from the men’s one-day international series followed recent Taliban restrictions placed on women’s and girls’ education and employment opportunities and their ability to access parks and gyms. “CA is committed to supporting growing the game for women and men around the world, including in Afghanistan, and will continue to engage with the Afghanistan Cricket Board in anticipation of improved conditions for women and girls in the country,” CA said. The cancellation of the series comes after Australia cited similar reasons for scrapping a one-off test match against Afghanistan that had been set to be played in Hobart, Australia in November 2021. Read more: 4 NGOs suspend work in Afghanistan after Taliban bar women In December, the Taliban banned women from completing higher education, having prohibited attendance at gyms and parks a month earlier. According to the United Nations, women are also banned from attending school beyond the sixth grade and working most jobs outside of their homes. In November 2021, the ICC formed a working group aiming to support and review women’s and men’s cricket in Afghanistan but more than a year later, the country remains the only full member of the ICC without a fully operational women’s team.
An explosion near the Foreign Ministry in the Afghan capital on Wednesday killed five people and wounded several others, a Taliban police spokesman said, the second prominent attack in Kabul so far in 2023. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, but the regional affiliate of the Islamic State group — known as the Islamic State in Khorasan Province — has increased its assaults since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in 2021. Targets have included Taliban patrols and members of the country’s Shiite minority. The mid-afternoon explosion was followed by peals of sirens. Taliban security forces prevented journalists from getting close to the site, threatening them with guns and telling them to leave. Kabul police chief spokesman Khalid Zadran said security teams have been deployed to the site. Later he said that as the result of the explosion, “five of our civilians were killed and a number of others were wounded.” Read more: Roadside bomb kills 6 people in north Afghanistan: Taliban Zadran offered no other details on the source of the blast or say how many people were wounded. Taliban government officials did not respond to requests seeking additional comment. Checkpoints line the fortified route to the ministry, which is on one of the roads leading to the presidential palace. Guards stop and search vehicles and people along the way. A photograph posted on social media, purportedly of the blast site, shows at least six bodies on the ground. Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the explosion, calling it an “act of terrorism, a crime against humanity and an act against all human and Islamic values.” He expressed his condolences to the families of the victims and wished the wounded a swift recovery. In the earlier attack this year in Kabul, the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for a bombing near a checkpoint at the city’s military airport that killed and wounded several people. There have been no official casualty figures for that attack so far. Read more: Afghan Taliban kill 8 in raids of IS hideouts in Afghanistan IS also claimed an assault on a Kabul hotel in mid-December.
Noura’s determination to play sports was so great that she defied her family’s opposition for years. Beatings from her mother and jeers from her neighbors never stopped her from the sports she loved. But the 20-year-old Afghan woman could not defy her country’s Taliban rulers. They have not just banned all sports for women and girls, they have actively intimidated and harassed those who once played, often scaring them from even practicing in private, Noura and other women say. Noura has been left shattered. “I’m not the same person anymore,” she said. “Since the Taliban came, I feel like I’m dead.” A number of girls and women who once played a variety of sports told The Associated Press they have been intimidated by the Taliban with visits and phone calls warning them not to engage in their sports. The women and girls spoke on condition of anonymity for fear they will face further threats. Read more: 4 NGOs suspend work in Afghanistan after Taliban bar women They posed for an AP photographer for portraits with the equipment of the sports they loved. They hid their identities with burqas, the all-encompassing robes and hood that completely cover the face, leaving only a mesh to see through. They didn't normally wear the burqa, but they said they sometimes do now when they go outside and want to remain anonymous and avoid harassment. The ban on sports is part of the Taliban's escalating campaign of restrictions that have shut down life for girls and women. Since their takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, the Taliban have barred girls from attending middle and high school. Last month, they ordered all women thrown out of universities as well. The Taliban require women to cover their hair and faces in public and prohibit them from going to parks or gyms. They have severely limited women’s ability to work outside the home and most recently forbade non-governmental organizations from employing women, a step that could cripple the vital flow of aid. Even before the Taliban, women’s sports were opposed by many in Afghanistan’s deeply conservative society, seen as a violation of women’s modesty and of their role in society. Still, the previous, internationally-backed government had programs encouraging women's sports and school clubs, leagues and national teams for women in many sports. A 20-year-old mixed martial artist recalled how in August 2021, she was competing in a local women’s tournament at a Kabul sports hall. Word spread through the audience and participants that the advancing Taliban were on the city’s outskirts. All the women and girls fled the hall. It was the last competition the young athlete ever played in. Months later, she said she tried to give private lessons for girls. But Taliban fighters raided the gym where they were practicing and arrested them all. In detention, the girls were humiliated and mocked, she said. After mediation by elders, they were released after promising not to practice sports anymore. She still practices at home and sometimes teaches her close friends. “Life has become very difficult for me, but I am a fighter, so I will continue to live and fight,” she said. Read more: Taliban bar women from university education in Afghanistan Mushwanay, spokesman of the Taliban’s Sports Organization and National Olympic Committee, said authorities were looking for a way to restart sports for women by building separate sports venues. But he gave no time frame and said funds were needed to do so. Taliban authorities have repeatedly made similar promises to allow girls 7th grade and up to return to school, but still have not done so. Noura faced resistance her whole life as she tried to play sports. Raised in a poor Kabul district by parents who migrated from the provinces, Noura started out playing soccer alongside local boys in the street. When she was nine, a coach spotted her and, at his encouragement, she joined a girls’ youth team. She kept it a secret from everyone but her father, but her cover was blown by her own talent. At 13, she was named the best girl soccer player in her age group, and her photo and name were broadcast on television. “All over the world, when a girl becomes famous and her picture is shown on TV, it’s a good day for her and she’s at the peak of happiness,” she said. “For me, that day was very bitter and the beginning of worse days.” Furious, her mother beat her, shouting that she was not allowed to play soccer. She kept playing in secret but was exposed again when her team won a national championship, and her photo was in the news. Again, her mother beat her. Still, she sneaked off to the award ceremony. She broke down in tears on stage as the audience cheered. “Only I knew I was crying because of loneliness and the hard life I had,” she said. When she found out, her mother set fire to her soccer uniform and shoes. Noura gave up soccer, but then turned to boxing. Her mother eventually relented, realizing she couldn’t stop her from sports, she said. The day the Taliban entered Kabul, she said, her coach called her mother and said Noura should go to the airport to be taken out of the country. Noura said her mother didn’t deliver the message because she didn't want her to leave. When she learned of the message—too late to escape—Noura said she cut her wrists and had to be taken to the hospital. “The world had become dark for me,” she said. Three months later, someone who identified himself as a member of the Taliban called the family and threatened her. “They were saying, why did you play sports? Sports are forbidden,” she recalled. Terrified, she left Kabul, disguising herself in her burqa to travel to her family’s hometown. Eventually, she returned but remains in fear. “Even if my life was difficult, I used to have confidence in myself and knew that, with effort, I could do what I wanted,” she said. “Now I don’t have much hope anymore.”
Afghanistan's ruling Taliban killed eight Islamic State militants and arrested nine others in a series of raids targeting key figures in a spate of attacks in Kabul, a senior Taliban government spokesman said Thursday. Zabihullah Mujahid, spokesman for the Taliban government, said the raids in the capital city and western Nimroz province on Wednesday targeted IS militants who organized recent attacks on Kabul’s Longan Hotel, Pakistan’s embassy and the military airport. Eight IS fighters, including foreign nationals, were killed and seven others arrested in Kabul, while a separate operation in western Nimroz province resulted in two more IS arrests, Mujahid said. “These members had a main role in the attack on the Chinese hotel and paved the way for foreign IS members to come to Afghanistan,” Mujahid said in a tweet. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for a deadly bombing near a checkpoint at the Afghan capital’s military airport Sunday. IS said that attack was carried out by the same militant who took part in the Longan Hotel assault in mid-December. The regional affiliate of the Islamic State group — known as the Islamic State in Khorasan Province and a key rival of the Taliban — has increased its attacks in Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover in 2021. Targets have included Taliban patrols and members of Afghanistan’s Shiite minority. Read more: Roadside bomb kills 6 people in north Afghanistan: Taliban IS published a photo of the attacker, identifying him as Abdul Jabbar, saying he withdrew safely from the attack on the hotel after he ran out of ammunition. It added he detonated his explosives-laden vest targeting the soldiers gathered at the checkpoint. Mujahid said light weapons, hand grenades, mines, vests and explosives were confiscated by the Taliban’s security forces during the raids on an IS hideout in the Shahdai Salehin neighborhood. Local residents reported sounds of several explosions and an hourslong gun battle. The Taliban swept across the country in August 2021, seizing power as U.S. and NATO forces were in the last weeks of their final withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years of war. Read more: Taliban: 2 civilians killed in a bomb blast in Afghanistan
The U.N. Security Council on Tuesday decried increasing restrictions on women's rights in Afghanistan, urging the country's Taliban rulers to reverse them immediately. The Security Council “reiterated its deep concern of the suspension of schools beyond the sixth grade, and its call for the full, equal, and meaningful participation of women and girls in Afghanistan,” it said in a press statement. Read more: 4 NGOs suspend work in Afghanistan after Taliban bar women U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk pointed to “terrible consequences” of a decision to bar women from working for non-governmental organizations. Last week, Taliban authorities stopped university education for women, sparking international outrage and demonstrations in Afghan cities. On Saturday, they announced the exclusion of women from NGO work, a move that already has prompted four major international aid agencies to suspend operations in Afghanistan. “No country can develop — indeed survive — socially and economically with half its population excluded," Türk said in a statement issued in Geneva. "These unfathomable restrictions placed on women and girls will not only increase the suffering of all Afghans but, I fear, pose a risk beyond Afghanistan’s borders.” “This latest decree by the de facto authorities will have terrible consequences for women and for all Afghan people,” Türk said, adding that banning women from working for NGOs will deprive them and their families of incomes and of the right to “contribute positively” to the country's development. Read more: Taliban bar women from university education in Afghanistan “The ban will significantly impair, if not destroy, the capacity of these NGOs to deliver the essential services on which so many vulnerable Afghans depend," he said. Despite initially promising a more moderate rule respecting rights for women and minorities when they took power last year, the Taliban have widely implemented their strict interpretation of Islamic law, or Sharia. They have banned girls from middle school and high school, restricted women from most employment and ordered them to wear head-to-toe clothing in public. Women are also banned from parks and gyms. “Women and girls cannot be denied their inherent rights," Türk said. “Attempts by the de facto authorities to relegate them to silence and invisibility will not succeed — it will merely harm all Afghans, compound their suffering, and impede the country’s development.”
The U.S. has condemned the Taliban for ordering non-governmental groups in Afghanistan to stop employing women, saying the ban will disrupt vital and life-saving assistance to millions. The Taliban takeover last year sent Afghanistan’s economy into a tailspin and transformed the country, driving millions into poverty and hunger. Foreign aid stopped almost overnight. Sanctions on Taliban rulers, a halt on bank transfers and frozen billions in Afghanistan’s currency reserves have already restricted access to global institutions and the outside money that supported the country’s aid-dependent economy before the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces. “Women are central to humanitarian operations around the world,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Saturday. “This decision could be devastating for the Afghan people.” Read more: Taliban bar women from university education in Afghanistan The NGO order came in a letter from Economy Minister Qari Din Mohammed Hanif. It said any organization found not complying with the order will have their operating license revoked in Afghanistan. It is the latest blow to female rights and freedoms since the Taliban seized power last year and follows sweeping restrictions on education, employment, clothing and travel. The flurry of edicts from the all-male and religiously driven Taliban government are reminiscent of their rule in the late 1990s, when they banned women from education and public spaces and outlawed music, television and many sports. The U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was deeply disturbed by reports of the NGO ban. Read more: Taliban official: 27 people lashed in public in Afghanistan “The United Nations and its partners, including national and international non-governmental organizations, are helping more than 28 million Afghans who depend on humanitarian aid to survive,” he said in a statement. Aid agencies and NGOs are expected to make a statement Sunday. The Economy Ministry’s order comes days after the Taliban banned female students from attending universities across the country, triggering backlash overseas and demonstrations in major Afghan cities. At around midnight Saturday in the western city of Herat, where earlier protesters were dispersed with water cannons, people opened their windows and chanted “Allahu Akbar (God is great)” in solidarity with female students. In the southern city of Kandahar, also on Saturday, hundreds of male students boycotted their final semester exams at Mirwais Neeka University. One of them told The Associated Press that Taliban forces tried to break up the crowd as they left the exam hall. “They tried to disperse us so we chanted slogans, then others joined in with the slogans,” said Akhbari, who only gave his last name. “We refused to move and the Taliban thought we were protesting. The Taliban started shooting their rifles into the air. I saw two guys being beaten, one of them to the head.” A spokesman for the Kandahar provincial governor, Ataullah Zaid, denied there was a protest. There were some people who were pretending to be students and teachers, he said, but they were stopped by students and security forces.
Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers on Tuesday banned female students from attending universities effective immediately in the latest edict cracking down on women’s rights and freedoms. Despite initially promising a more moderate rule respecting rights for women’s and minorities, the Taliban have widely implemented their strict interpretation of Islamic law, or Sharia. They have banned girls from middle school and high school, restricted women from most employment and ordered them to wear head-to-toe clothing in public. Women are also banned from parks and gyms. The Taliban were ousted in 2001 by a U.S.-led coalition for harboring al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and returned to power after America’s chaotic departure last year. Read: Taliban official: 27 people lashed in public in Afghanistan The decision was announced after a government meeting. A letter shared by the spokesman for the Ministry of Higher Education, Ziaullah Hashmi, told private and public universities to implement the ban as soon as possible and to inform the ministry once the ban is in place. Hashmi tweeted the letter and confirmed its contents in a message to The Associated Press without giving further details. The decision is certain to hurt efforts by the Taliban to win recognition from potential international donors at a time when the country is mired in a worsening humanitarian crisis. The international community has urged Taliban leaders to reopen schools and give women their right to public space. The university ban comes weeks after Afghan girls took their high school graduation exams, even though they have been banned from classrooms since the Taliban took over the country last year. “I can’t fulfill my dreams, my hopes. Everything is disappearing before my eyes and I can’t do anything about it,” said a third-year journalism and communication student at Nangarhar University. She did not want to be identified for fear of reprisals. “Is being a girl a crime? If that’s the case, I wish I wasn’t a girl,” she added. “My father had dreams for me, that his daughter would become a talented journalist in the future. That is now destroyed. So, you tell me, how will a person feel in this situation?” Read: Taliban: 2 civilians killed in a bomb blast in Afghanistan She added that she had not lost all hope yet. “God willing, I will continue my studies in any way. I’m starting online studies. And, if it doesn’t work, I will have to leave the country and go to another country,” she said. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the decision, calling it another “broken promise” from the Taliban and a “very troubling” move. “It’s difficult to imagine how a country can develop, can deal with all of the challenges that it has, without the active participation of women and the education,” Guterres said. Robert Wood, the deputy U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the Taliban cannot expect to be a legitimate member of the international community until they respect the rights of all Afghans. U.S. National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said the United States also condemned the move by the Taliban. “This deplorable decision is the latest effort by Taliban leadership to impose additional restrictions on women and girls in Afghanistan and prevent them from exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms,” Watson said. “As a result of this unacceptable stance to hold back half of the population of Afghanistan, the Taliban will be further alienated from the international community and denied the legitimacy they desire,” she added. Afghanistan’s U.N. seat is still held by the previous government led by former President Ashraf Ghani, despite the Taliban’s request to represent the country at the United Nations, which was recently deferred again. Afghanistan’s charge d’affairs Naseer Ahmed Faiq said at the U.N. that the announcement “marks a new low in violation of most fundamental and universal human rights for all of humanity.”