Taliban leader makes more promises on women’s rights but says ‘naughty women’ should stay home
Sirajuddin Haqqani, Afghanistan’s acting interior minister and co-head of the Taliban since 2016, made the comments in an exclusive first face-to-face interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in Kabul.
In March, after numerous promises that the girls could attend secondary school, the Taliban reversed their decision, postponing the return indefinitely.
Asked about Afghan women who say they are afraid to leave their homes under the Taliban, and those who have reported a chilling effect from the leadership of the militant group, Haqqani added with a laugh: “We keep naughty women at home.” .
After being pressed to clarify his comment by Amanpour, he said, “By saying naughty women, it was a joke referring to those naughty women who are controlled by other parties to challenge the current government.”
Haqqani also set certain parameters for the future of women and work, which will be constrained by the Taliban interpretation of Islamic law and “national, cultural and traditional principles”.
“They are allowed to work within their own framework,” he told Amanpour.
The Taliban minister was speaking in his first on-camera interview with Western media in years, just months after showing his face in public for the first time. The senior and top-secret official is wanted by the FBI and has been classified by the US State Department as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist”. He’s got a $10 million bounty on his head.
Her comments on girls’ education and women’s rights punctuated a series of assertions that “nobody is against (girls’) education” in the Afghan government.
“Already girls are allowed to go to school up to grade 6, and beyond that year work continues on a mechanism,” Haqqani said. “Very soon you will hear very good news about this, God willing,” he added, without specifying a time frame.
Afterwards, Haqqani’s aides said the interview was an effort to open a new chapter in relations with the United States and the world.
But the Taliban have repeatedly assured the international community that they will protect the rights of women and girls since seizing Afghanistan last August, while simultaneously stripping away many of their freedoms and protections.
Many school-aged girls and women have already lost hope. “The whole of their government [is] against girls’ education,” Maryam, 19, told CNN on Tuesday. “I don’t believe the Taliban keep their promises…they don’t understand our feelings.”
“Step by step, they are taking all our liberties,” 17-year-old Fatima added. “Today’s Taliban and the Taliban of the 90s are the same – I don’t see any change in their policies and rules.
“Our only hope is that the international community puts extreme pressure on the Taliban to allow girls to go to school. Nothing else [will] work.”
Maryam and Fatima, like the other women CNN spoke to, did not provide their last names due to safety concerns.
Haqqani’s comments are unlikely to do much to encourage observers to think the Taliban are serious about their commitments. “All of the Taliban leaders have zero credibility on this issue,” Heather Barr, associate director of the women’s rights division of international watchdog Human Rights Watch, told CNN.
“They’ve been making representations about their supposed respect for women and girls” ever since they took power, Barr added. “Every day after that, there was a new crackdown on women, and it only escalated over time.”
G7 foreign ministers and the European Union’s high representative last week voiced their “strongest opposition” to the Taliban’s growing restrictions on the rights of women and girls. Haqqani told CNN that “judgments, research and decision-making by the international community are all one-sided,” adding, “We are still in the preliminary phase. It has only been eight months since we took power…we are yet to bring things back to normal.”
When asked by Amanpour if all women had to wear face coverings, Haqqani replied, “We don’t force women to wear [the] hijab, but we advise them and preach to them from time to time… [the] Hijab is not compulsory but it is an Islamic order that everyone should implement.”
On the streets of Kabul, women’s growing isolation from society has left many in economic peril. “I have to work,” a woman named Khotima told CNN. “They should let us work because we have to become the men of the family to be able to find bread for the children.”
“When you don’t have money, when you don’t have [a] work, you have no income, could you eat properly when there is no work? added another woman named Farishta.
US not ‘currently’ enemy, says Haqqani
Haqqani was speaking with CNN two months after the Taliban released rare photographs of the minister at a ceremony for police officers. Prior to this, he had rarely been seen in public; his FBI “Most Wanted” poster only features a grainy image showing part of his face.
Haqqani told CNN that “in the future, we would like to have good relations with the United States and the international community,” adding, “currently, we don’t see them as enemies.”
But he made repeated assurances about women’s rights and girls’ education that contradicted observations by global watchdogs and governments.
“The international community raises the issue of women’s rights a lot. Here in Afghanistan, there are Islamic, national, cultural and traditional principles,” he said. “Within these principles, we strive to provide them with work opportunities and that is our goal.”
Afghan girls above grade 6 were due to return to school in March for the first time since the Taliban takeover, but have been told to stay home until a proper school uniform according to Sharia and Afghan customs and culture be devised, the Taliban-ruled Bakhtar News Agency reported at the time.
Haqqani told CNN the delay was necessary while leaders devise the “mechanism” by which girls can return to education. “There were some gaps in the ongoing preparations. Work is ongoing on these issues,” he said.
But experts have expressed skepticism that their motives are different from what was the case between 1996 and 2001, when the first Taliban regime banned girls from studying.
“They always said the conditions are not right now, [but they would] understand,” Barr said. “In those five years, that moment never came. So very clearly for women and girls, it was always a lie, and that’s how it feels this time too.”
Haqqani was also questioned about the status of Mark Frerichs, an American veteran and entrepreneur who was abducted in Kabul in late January 2020 and is believed to be held by the Haqqani network.
A proof of life video, apparently filmed in November 2021, emerged in April, in which Frerichs said, “I would like to ask the leaders of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, please release me. Release me so that I can be reunited with my family.”
Haqqani told CNN: “That’s what they think, that he is with us… There is no obstacle from the side of the emirate to his release. If the United States agrees to the terms of the Islamic emirate, the issue of his release could be resolved in a day.
“Regarding the assumptions that he might be with us, I would like to say that we are part of the Islamic Emirate, we are committed to obeying the orders of Amirul Momineen, the Supreme Leader,” he said. he adds. “Efforts are underway at the government level, and a team has been appointed to negotiate with them.
When reached for comment, a US State Department spokesperson told CNN: “The safe and immediate release of US citizen and Navy veteran Mark Frerichs is imperative. We have made this clear to the Taliban and have called on them to release him immediately in virtually every conversation over the past two years.”
CNN’s Jack Guy and Madalena Araujo contributed to this article.