January 29, 2023

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Officials: Taliban banned unaccompanied women from flights

Officials: Taliban banned unaccompanied women from flights

Two Afghan airline officials said today, Saturday, that Afghan Taliban rulers refused to allow dozens of women to board several flights, including some abroad, because they were traveling without a male guardian.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of Taliban repercussions, said dozens of women who arrived at Kabul International Airport on Friday to board domestic and international flights were told they could not do so without a male guardian.

According to one official, some of the women with dual nationals were returning home abroad, including some from Canada. Officials said the women were denied boarding flights to Islamabad, Dubai and Turkey on Cam Air and state-owned Ariana Airlines.

One of the officials said the order came from the Taliban leadership.

By Saturday, some women traveling alone were allowed to board an Ariana flight bound for the western province of Herat, the official said. However, by the time permission was granted, they had missed their flight, he said.

The airport chief and police chief, both Taliban and Islamic clerics, met on Saturday with airline officials.

“They are trying to solve it,” the official said.

It is not yet clear whether the Taliban will exempt air travel from an order issued months ago requiring women who travel more than 45 miles (72 kilometers) to be accompanied by a male relative.

Taliban officials contacted by the Associated Press did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Since taking power last August, the Taliban leadership has been squabbling among themselves as they struggle to transition from war to rule. It pits hardliners – such as acting Prime Minister Mullah Hassan Akhund, deeply rooted in the old guard – against those who are more pragmatic among them, such as Sirajuddin Haqqani. He took over the leadership of the powerful Haqqani network from his father, Jalaluddin Haqqani. The elder Haqqani, who died several years ago, is from the Akhund generation, who ruled Afghanistan under the strict and unchallenging leadership of Mullah Muhammad Omar.

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What infuriates many Afghans is knowing that many Taliban members of the younger generation, such as Sirajuddin Haqqani, educate their girls in Pakistan, while in Afghanistan, women and girls have been targeted by repressive edicts since they took power.

This latest assault on women’s rights in Taliban-run Afghanistan, which denies women air travel, comes just days after the cleric-led government reneged on its promise to allow girls to return to school after sixth grade.

The move infuriated the international community, which has been reluctant to recognize the Taliban-run government since the Taliban came to power last August, fearing a return to their harsh rule in the 1990s. The Taliban’s refusal to open the door to education for all Afghan children also angered large segments of the Afghan people. Dozens of girls demonstrated, Saturday, in the Afghan capital to demand the right to go to school.

After the Taliban banned girls’ education after sixth grade, women’s rights activist Mahbooba Siraj went on TOLO TV in Afghanistan to ask, “How can we trust you as a nation with your words anymore? What do we have to do to please you? Should we all die?”

PenPath founder Matiullah Wesa said an Afghan charitable organization called PenPath, which runs dozens of “underground” schools with thousands of volunteers, is planning protests across the country to demand the Taliban step back from its system.

On Saturday at the Doha Forum 2022 in Qatar, Roya Mahboob, the Afghan businesswoman who founded the all-girl robotics team in Afghanistan, received the Forum Award in recognition of her work and commitment to girls’ education.

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US Special Representative for Afghanistan Tom West has canceled meetings with the Taliban at the Doha Forum after classes for older girls were suspended.

“We have canceled some of our engagements, including planned meetings in Doha and around the Doha Forum, and have made clear that we see this decision as a potential turning point in our engagement,” State Department Deputy Spokesperson Galina Porter said in a statement.

“The Taliban’s decision, if not quickly reversed, will severely harm the Afghan people, the country’s economic growth prospects, and the Taliban’s ambition to improve their relations with the international community,” she said.

West acknowledged that the Taliban had made promises since seizing power to allow girls and women to go to school. He said both the United States and the international community had received “the necessary assurances” that this would happen.

“I was surprised by the switch last Wednesday and I think you saw the world react by condemning the move,” West said. “It is a breach, first of all, of the confidence of the Afghan people because they have pledged to do so.”

He added, “I believe that hope is not lost. I have spoken to many Afghans here who also believe in this. I hope to see a reversal of this decision in the coming days.”

Mahboob, in an interview after receiving the Doha Forum award, called on several global leaders and decision-makers attending the forum to put pressure on the Taliban to open schools for all Afghan children.

The robotics team fled Afghanistan when the Taliban returned to power, but Mahboob said she still hoped to build a science and technology center she had hoped to build in Afghanistan for girls.

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“I hope that the international community and Muslim communities (have not forgotten) Afghanistan and (will not abandon) us,” she said. Afghanistan is a poor country. It does not have enough resources. And if you take (away) our knowledge, I don’t know what will happen.”


Associated Press writer Jane Joo in Doha, Qatar contributed to this report.