Taliban ‘one of best armed terrorist groups’ says commentator
The news comes as dozens of women took to the streets yesterday with banners and posters against forced wearing of the hijab, harassment by the Taliban and the requirement of needing a male relative chaperone, or mahram, to be able to go out in public. Taliban fighters confronted female protesters and doused them with pepper spray as they marched through Kabul demanding rights to work and education.
Women also demanded justice for Zainab Abdullahi, who was shot dead at a Taliban checkpoint on Friday as she was returning from a wedding in the Afghan capital, and the release of a female prison officer who has been missing for several months.
The faces of both Abdullahi and the officer, Alia Azizi, were printed onto banners being carried by the women.
Ms Azizi was the manager of Herat Prison before the Taliban swept to power last year and a high-profile senior female official.
She disappeared in October and her whereabouts remain unknown.
Her son says she was arrested by the Taliban and is in Pul-e-Charkhi prison in Kabul.
Protesters were pepper sprayed by Taliban fighters
The Taliban has clamped down on women since resuming power
In scenes witnessed by The Times, Taliban security forces arrived within minutes of the women starting their march outside Kabul University.
Carrying automatic weapons, the fighters surrounded the women but allowed them to continue walking a few hundred metres.
However, a Taliban vehicle steered into the side of the group before one of the women slapped her hand down on the bonnet in anger and the car moved away.
A gunman at the front of the demonstration sprayed pepper spray into the faces of several women before another pulled him away and sent him to the back of the group.
The Burkha is being enforced by the group
Women want restrictions to be lifted by the Taliban
An unnamed woman who was scared to give her name told reporters: “When we were near [the university] three Taliban vehicles came, and fighters from one of the vehicles used pepper spray on us.”
She added: “My right eye started to burn. I told one of them ‘shame on you’, and then he pointed his gun at me.”
Two other protesters said that one of the women had to be taken to hospital after the spray caused an allergic reaction to her eyes and face.
One woman had shouted over a megaphone: “In the name of humanity, justice and equality . . . It has been five months that women in Afghanistan have protested to have justice and their right to work and attend school but, still, no one is paying attention to these things and every day the restrictions are increasing for women.
“Taliban forces are not paying attention to their leaders,” screamed another, accusing fighters on the ground of harassing citizens.
Another said: “We want these actions to be stopped. We want the Taliban to remove restrictions placed on women and to open the doors of schools for girls.”
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The Taliban swept to power following a US retreat
However, in a move that has come as a surprise to some women, the Taliban has announced a potential change for the future.
Girls’ schools across Afghanistan will hopefully reopen by late March, a senior Taliban leader has told the Associated Press, offering the first timeline for the resumption of high schools for girls since the group retook power in mid-August.
Speaking to journalists on Saturday, Zabihullah Mujahid, spokesman for Afghanistan’s government and deputy minister of culture and information, said the group’s education department would open classrooms for all girls and women in the Afghan New Year, which starts on March 21.
The timing coincides with the Afghan and Persian New Year on the first day of Spring.
Although the Taliban has not officially banned girls’ education, the group’s fighters have shuttered girls’ secondary schools and barred women from public universities in some parts of the country.
The Taliban have stated schools for girls will reopen in March
Girls in most of Afghanistan have not been allowed back to school beyond grade 7 since the Taliban takeover and reversing that has been one of the main demands of women’s rights activists and the international community for months.
Education for girls and women “is a question of capacity,” Mujahid said in the interview. “We are trying to solve these problems by the coming year,” so that schools and universities can open, he added.
The international community, reluctant to formally recognise a Taliban-run administration, is wary that the group could impose harsh measures similar to its previous rule 20 years ago.
At the time, women were banned from education, work and public life.