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Taliban divisions deepen as Afghan women defy veil edict

Taliban divisions deepen as Afghan women defy veil edict
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Taliban divisions deepen as Afghan women defy veil edict

Taliban divisions deepen as Afghan women defy veil edict

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Aruja was angry and frightened, keeping her eyes open for the patrolling Taliban while she and a friend were shopping in the Macrowan neighborhood of Kabul on Sunday.

The math teacher feared that his large shawl, tightly wrapped around his head, and swept pale brown coat would not satisfy the latest decree of the country’s religiously driven Taliban government. After all, only his eyes were showing. His face was visible.

Aruja, who asked to be identified by just one name to avoid attention, did not wear the overall burqa preferred by the Taliban, which issued a new dress code for women to appear in public on Saturday. The order says that only the eyes of a woman should be seen.

Taliban orders Afghan women to cover their heads and feet in public

The decree of Hibaitullah Akhunzad, a radical leader of the Taliban, even suggested that women should not leave their homes unless absolutely necessary, and outlined multiple punishments for male relatives of women who violated the code.

It was a major blow to the rights of women in Afghanistan, who had been living with relative independence for two decades before the Taliban took over last August – when US and other foreign forces withdrew to end the 20-year war.

A woman wearing a burqa walks in front of her home in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sunday, May 8, 2022.

A woman wearing a burqa walks in front of her home in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sunday, May 8, 2022.
(AP Photo / Ibrahim Naruji)

A lone leader, Akhunzada rarely travels outside southern Kandahar, the epicenter of the traditional Taliban. She favored the harsh elements of the group’s previous power in the 1990s, when girls and women were largely barred from school, work and public life.

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Like Mullah Mohammad Omar, the founder of the Taliban, Akhunzada has imposed a strict brand of Islam that marries religion with ancient tribal traditions, often blurring the two.

Akhunzada has adopted a tribal village tradition where girls often marry into adolescence and rarely leave their homes, calling it a religious claim, analysts say.

Despite promises, the Taliban have canceled girls’ higher education

The Taliban are divided between realists and extremists as they fight to transform from a rebellion into a regime. Meanwhile, their government is facing a growing economic crisis. And the Taliban’s attempts to gain recognition and assistance from the West have failed, largely because they have not formed a representative government and have limited the rights of girls and women.

So far, the radicals and realists of the movement have avoided public confrontation.

A woman wearing a burqa and her children in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, May 8, 2022.

A woman wearing a burqa and her children in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, May 8, 2022.
(AP Photo / Ibrahim Naruji)

Yet the divisions deepened in March, on the eve of the new school year, when Akhunzada issued a last-minute decision that girls would not be allowed to go to school after finishing sixth grade. A few weeks before the start of the school year, senior Taliban officials told reporters that all girls would be allowed to return to school. Akhunzada insisted that allowing older girls to return to school violated Islamic principles.

A prominent Afghan who has met with the leadership and is familiar with their internal strife has said that a senior cabinet minister expressed his displeasure at Akhunzada’s views at a recent leadership meeting. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

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Torek Farhadi, a former government adviser, believes that Taliban leaders have chosen not to be excluded in public because they fear that any notion of division could weaken their rule.

“The leadership doesn’t look at many things, but they all know that if they don’t put it together, everything will fall apart,” Farhadi said. “In that case, they could start clashing with each other.”

Farhadi added, “For that reason, the elders have decided to tolerate each other, even when it comes to disagreeing decisions that have caused them a great deal of controversy inside Afghanistan and internationally.”

A woman wearing a burqa walks through a bird market holding her baby on Sunday, May 8, 2022, in the center of Kabul, Afghanistan.

A woman wearing a burqa walks through a bird market holding her baby on Sunday, May 8, 2022, in the center of Kabul, Afghanistan.
(AP Photo / Ibrahim Naruji)

Some more realist leaders seem to be looking for a calm solution that will soften hard-line orders. Since March, there has been a growing chorus, even among the most powerful Taliban leaders, silently ignoring other repressive orders to send older girls back to school.

Earlier this month, Anas Haqqani, the younger brother of Sirajuddin, the head of the powerful Haqqani Network, told a conference in the eastern city of Khost that girls deserved education and would return to school soon – although he did not say when. He further said that women have a role to play in shaping the country.

“You will get very good news which will make everyone very happy … this problem will be solved in the next few days,” Haqqani said at the time.

Afghan women respond to Taliban by allowing girls to return to school for fear of their safety

On Sunday, women in the Afghan capital, Kabul, wore traditional conservative Muslim clothing. Most wore a traditional hijab, which included a head scarf and a long cloak or coat, but covered their faces a few days earlier at the behest of a Taliban leader. Wearing a burqa, head-to-toe clothing that covered the face and concealed the eyes behind a net was a minority.

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“Women in Afghanistan wear the hijab, and many wear the burqa, but it’s not about the hijab, it’s about making the Taliban invisible to all women,” said Shabana, who wore a bright gold bangle under her flowing black coat, hiding behind a black head scarf with sequins. Hair. “The Taliban want to make us disappear about it.”

On Sunday, May 8, 2022, in downtown Kabul, Afghanistan, a burqa-clad woman walks through an old market guarded by a Taliban fighter.

On Sunday, May 8, 2022, in downtown Kabul, Afghanistan, a burqa-clad woman walks through an old market guarded by a Taliban fighter.
(AP Photo / Ibrahim Naruji)

Aruza said Taliban rulers were forcing Afghans to flee their country. “Why should I stay here if they don’t want to give us human rights? We are human beings,” he said.

Several women stopped talking. They have all challenged the latest order.

“We don’t want to be in prison,” said Parveen, who, like other women, wanted to give only one name.

Obaidullah Bahir, a visiting scholar at New School in New York and a former lecturer at the American University in Afghanistan, said:

“It forces families to leave the country by any means. It also fuels accusations that will eventually lead to a large-scale coalition against the Taliban,” he said.

After decades of fighting, Bahir said the Taliban would not do much to appease Afghans under their rule “an opportunity that the Taliban are rapidly destroying.”

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