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The Azadi Briefing: Another School Year Begins With Afghan Girls Shut Out Of Class

Younger girls attend class at a local school in Zabul on March 14.
Younger girls attend class at a local school in Zabul on March 14.

Welcome to The Azadi Briefing, an RFE/RL newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan. To subscribe, click here.

I'm Abubakar Siddique, a senior correspondent at RFE/RL's Radio Azadi. Here's what I've been tracking and what I'm keeping an eye on in the days ahead.

The Key Issue

A new school year began in Afghanistan this week, but with girls above the sixth grade still banned from attending class.

Last year, the Taliban made a last-minute U-turn after promising for months to allow teenage girls to attend school. But this year, there were few signs before the academic year began that the militants would reverse their ban. In December, the Taliban also banned university education for women.

Human rights groups and female Afghan activists this week condemned the Taliban's ban. In a statement on March 21, UNICEF said the militant group's "unjustified and shortsighted decision has crushed the hopes and dreams of more than 1 million girls."

Former Afghan lawmaker Shukria Barakzai told Radio Azadi that the ban epitomized the Taliban's worldview, which she said fears educated women.

Afghanistan is the only country in the world where girls are prohibited from going to high school.

Why It's Important: The Taliban's restrictions on girls' education as well as its severe constraints on women's right to work and freedom of movement have signaled to Afghans and the international community that the militant group is bent on reestablishing its brutal regime of the 1990s.

The Taliban's draconian policies on girls and women appear to have backfired. The restrictions are considered one of the reasons the hard-line Islamist group has yet to gain international recognition and domestic legitimacy.

The education ban has even undermined the Taliban's religious credentials. The group has come under strong criticism from Muslim countries and Islamic clerics, who have called for the Taliban to rescind its ban.

What's Next: In the long term, the Taliban's education ban is likely to have a devastating social and economic impact.

In August, UNICEF estimated that the Taliban's education ban translated to a loss of at least $500 million for the Afghan economy in the last 12 months.

With the Taliban refusing to reverse its ban, some Afghans have called for the international community to impose further sanctions against the Taliban government.

"Sanctions against the Taliban leaders responsible for these bans would force them to rescind such policies," Shinkai Karokhail, a female former Afghan lawmaker, told Radio Azadi.

The Week's Best Stories

The preservation of Afghanistan's rich cultural heritage has been impeded by decades of war, destruction, and desecration. But while the Taliban's return to power has raised fears of a return to its ruinous old ways when it comes to the country's pre-Islamic history, preservationists continue to pick up the pieces with a surprising level of cooperation.

Norouz festivities are making a limited comeback among Pashtun communities in northwestern Pakistan. The traditional spring celebrations marking the arrival of the New Year died down a century ago due to calendar changes and imperial borders that limited their contacts with fellow Pashtuns in Afghanistan and other communities.

What To Keep An Eye On

The Taliban's influential finance minister, Mullah Hidayatullah Badri, was demoted and appointed as the new head of Afghanistan's central bank on March 22.

The demotion came after speculation that Badri had threatened to resign from his post because of differences with Taliban Supreme Leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada.

One account suggests that Badri opposed Akhundzada's 2021 decision to impose a blanket ban on opium cultivation without providing alternative livelihoods to the tens of thousands of farmers in southern Afghanistan, where Badri is from, who were dependent on the illicit drug trade.

During its 19-year insurgency, the Taliban is believed to have earned billions from the drug trade. Experts say the Taliban taxed poppy farmers and was involved in the trafficking of narcotics to neighboring countries.

In recent months, senior Taliban officials have publicly criticized Akhundzada, who has been accused of monopolizing power and empowering a cohort of radical clerics.

Why It's Important: Badri, also known by his alias Gul Agha, was among the founding members of the Taliban in the mid-1990s. He controlled the Taliban's finances for more than two decades.

Badri is a prominent Taliban figure from the southern province of Helmand. The so-called Helmand Shura, or council that Badri was a member of, led the Taliban insurgency for several years. In May 2016, a U.S. drone strike killed Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansur inside Pakistan, which weakened the faction.

Badri was the only minister appointed from this faction when the Taliban announced its government in September 2021. His departure from the top echelons of the Taliban government deprives this powerful Taliban faction of a share in power.

Badri also figures prominently on the UN sanctions list against the Taliban leaders. His appointment to Afghanistan's central bank could further complicate the group's international dealings.

Until next time,

Abubakar Siddique

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    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, a journalist for RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, specializes in the coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan. He is also one of the authors of the Azadi Briefing, a weekly newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan.

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Radio Azadi is RFE/RL's Dari- and Pashto-language public service news outlet for Afghanistan. Every Friday, in our newsletter, Azadi Briefing, one of our journalists will share their analysis of the week’s most important issues and explain why they matter.

To subscribe, click here.