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The Azadi Briefing: Taliban Appears Split Over Women's Education Ban   

Afghan women protest in Kabul to demand that the Taliban administration allow the reopening of girls schools and ensure ample employment opportunities for women. (file photo)
Afghan women protest in Kabul to demand that the Taliban administration allow the reopening of girls schools and ensure ample employment opportunities for women. (file photo)

Welcome to The Azadi Briefing, an RFE/RL newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan. To subscribe, click here.

I'm Abubakar Siddique, senior correspondent at RFE/RL's Radio Azadi. Here's what I've been tracking and what I'm keeping an eye on in the days ahead.

The Key Issue

Abdul Salam Zaeef, a former senior Taliban official, has criticized the extremist group’s severe restrictions on female education.

“Those who oppose modern education or invent arguments to undermine its importance, they are either completely ignorant or oppose Muslims under the garb of Islam,” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter, on March 5.

The Kabul-based Zaeef is one of the founders of the Taliban and a former deputy minister and ambassador during the group’s first stint in power from 1996 to 2001.

Since seizing power in 2021, the Taliban has banned girls above the sixth grade from going to school and women from attending university, in moves that provoked international condemnation.

Zaeef, a dissenting voice for years, is the second prominent Taliban figure who has recently criticized the group's restrictions on female education.

The Taliban’s deputy foreign minister, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, called on the government to rescind the ban on women’s education.

"Learning should be open to all because education is obligatory for both men and women,” he said. “No country can progress without education.”

Why It’s Important: Zaeef and Stanikzai’s comments highlight the rifts within the Taliban over the issue of female education.

The Taliban’s spiritual leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, has come under growing fire from figures inside the group over his extremist policies, including the severe restrictions on women’s rights.

In his attempt to create what he sees as a "pure" Islamic system, Akhundzada has alienated many Afghans and isolated the Taliban's unrecognized government internationally.

What's Next: It is unclear if Akhundzada, who has the ultimate say on all important matters under the Taliban’s theocratic system, will moderate the group’s policies.

Without reversing its repressive policies and creating an inclusive government, the Taliban appears unlikely to gain international recognition.

What To Keep An Eye On

Afghan laborers and traders say they face increasing visa restrictions in the Gulf states.

During the past four decades, the oil-rich states in the Persian Gulf have provided jobs to hundreds of thousands of poor, uneducated Afghans.

"I want to go there, but the Gulf Arab nations are now reluctant to grant us visas," Naqibullah, a resident of southeastern Khost Province, told RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi.

“There is no business here, but it is tough to obtain a visa for the United Arab Emirates,” said Asmatullah Zadran, a trader in Khost.

According to a January report by the Afghanistan Analysts Network, an independent research organization, none of the Gulf countries, except Oman, currently grant work visas to Afghans.

Why It's Important: The increasing visa restrictions on Afghans are likely to affect tens of thousands of families who have relied on remittances from family members working in the Gulf.

Afghanistan is already reeling from an economic crisis and mass unemployment since the Taliban takeover.

The drop in remittances from the Gulf are likely to further aggravate the economic situation in Afghanistan, where millions of people are on the verge of starvation.

That's all from me for now. Don't forget to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you have.

Abubakar Siddique

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    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, a journalist for RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, specializes in the coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan. He is also one of the authors of the Azadi Briefing, a weekly newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan.

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Radio Azadi is RFE/RL's Dari- and Pashto-language public service news outlet for Afghanistan. Every Friday, in our newsletter, Azadi Briefing, one of our journalists will share their analysis of the week’s most important issues and explain why they matter.

To subscribe, click here.