US condemns Taliban U-Turn on reopening high schools to girls

The sudden reversal by the Taliban was met with sharp criticism from the United Nations. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - US Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticised the Taliban for ditching its commitment to reopen high schools to girls at the last minute, posing the latest setback for a regime struggling to build a footing in the international community.

Girls turned up at secondary schools across the country on Wednesday (March 23) only to be told that classes from the sixth grade remain suspended until further notice. The sudden reversal by the Taliban was met with sharp criticism from the United Nations, while Blinken said it would "profoundly harm" the group's ability to build ties abroad.

"Education is a human right, and the United States rejects the Taliban's excuses for reversing their commitment to the people of Afghanistan that all Afghans would be able to return to school at all levels today," Blinken said in a statement.

"This decision by the Taliban, if it is not swiftly reversed, will profoundly harm the Afghan people, the country's prospects for economic growth, and the Taliban's ambition to improve their relations with the international community."

The move by the radical Islamist group further reinforces concerns it would continue imposing other draconian restrictions on women and girls after it took over the country in August last year.

The sudden change in plans is because of delays in deciding a new uniform for older schoolgirls, said Suhail Shaheen, Taliban-appointed permanent representative to the United Nations, adding the group has not and will not ban them from education.

Female students were allowed to return to universities last month after classrooms were segregated by gender.

The Taliban have sought talks with the US to reverse its decision to use the Afghan central bank's reserves to compensate victims of the Sept 11 attacks and support aid efforts in the country.

The Afghan government is also pressing the UN for recognition and a member's seat with the lack of international recognition hurting the country's economy and diplomacy.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres separately said the de facto authorities' failure to reopen schools for girls "despite repeated commitments, is a profound disappointment and deeply damaging for Afghanistan".

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