‘It’s our system’: Taliban leader attacks foreign demands on Afghan regime | Afghanistan

The reclusive Taliban emir lashed out at foreign demands on his government, as the UN human rights chief called for an end to the “systematic oppression” of women in the country.

The group’s supreme leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, gave a rare public address to thousands of clerics at an all-male gathering to discuss Afghanistan’s future.

He traveled from his base in Kandahar to Kabul for the speech, the first time he has made the trip since the Taliban took over the Afghan capital last August.

The cleric, who has never been filmed and is rarely photographed, effectively ruled out an inclusive government that might have drawn members from the ranks of former Taliban opponents and made no mention of women or girls.

He described the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan as a “victory for Muslims everywhere”, even though his government was not recognized by any Muslim-majority country and many Muslim clerics in the inside and outside Afghanistan denounced its harshest edicts.

The meeting was closed to the media, but in an audio recording of the speech, Akhundzada, a hardliner whose son was a suicide bomber, warned the international community against interference in Afghanistan.

“Thank God we are now an independent country. [Foreigners] shouldn’t give us their orders, it’s our system and we have our own decisions,” he said, according to the official Bakhtar news agency.

Diplomats around the world have warned the Taliban that they must expand their government and lift the most extreme controls on women’s lives if they want official recognition of their government.

In Afghanistan, girls are now excluded from secondary education and women cannot work in most sectors outside of health and education, need a male guardian for long journeys and have received orders to cover their faces in public.

Michelle Bachelet, the UN human rights chief, said Friday that Afghan women and girls faced a “desperate situation”.

Since the Taliban returned to power, they “are experiencing the biggest and fastest setback in the enjoyment of their rights in decades”, she told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

She urged the Taliban to look to other Muslim-majority countries, none of which prevent girls from going to school, to find a model to get girls back to school.

Universities and primary schools remain open to female students, albeit in strictly separate classes, and Taliban leaders have repeatedly stressed the need for female doctors, teachers and nurses. Many senior Taliban leaders send their own daughters to school.

But plans to reopen secondary schools for girls in March were abruptly canceled at the last minute. The Taliban, who have repeatedly acknowledged that women have a right to education under Islam, have never given a clear explanation for the closures.

Analysts have suggested that male clerics gathered in Kabul could debate the reopening of girls’ schools, a topic that has divided the Taliban movement itself. Ahead of the rally, the acting deputy prime minister said the men would speak on behalf of the women “because we respect them a lot”.

Education for women is one of the many issues that have caused splits in the Taliban movement. The dominance of ethnic Pashtun Taliban leaders in government has caused frustration across Afghanistan and raised fears it could fuel another round of civil war.

Akhundzada effectively ruled out any inclusive government, saying that while the leaders of the former government should not fear reprisals, “forgiveness does not mean bringing them into government”.

While this may leave the door open to Taliban opponents who had stayed out of politics, many prominent community leaders had some sort of official role under former presidents Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani.

A narrow government can not only be a liability in seeking international support – the Taliban is already battling armed uprisings in the Panjshir Valley and, more recently, in the northern province of Sar-e Pul.

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In Sar-e Pul, an ex-Taliban rebel – one of the few commanders recruited from the ethnic Hazara community – turned against the rulers. There have been reports of brutal killings of civilians in the campaign to crush his rebellion, drawing condemnation from human rights groups.

“Amnesty International is gravely concerned by reports of summary executions and abuses of civilians in Balkhab district, Sar-e Pul province,” the group said. said in a statement.

“As the de facto authorities in Afghanistan, the Taliban bears primary responsibility for ending attacks on civilians and ensuring justice and accountability.”

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