Bigotry is blind. Bigots cannot see what they are doing to economies and their future. They know not how passage of time exposes their hypocrisies. In culmination of their anti-women program, the Afghan Taliban bans women from universities, private and public, on 20 December. This bombshell is producing non-stop plumes of global condemnation.

As condemnations continue to come in, the ban is not shying away, it takes effect at once. In March this year, the Taliban reneged on its promise of letting girls into public high schools. With the universities shut for women now, that promise gets buried, dead and gone for good. In essence, the Taliban is taking away Afghan women’s right to education.

Future Robbed at Gunpoint

This deprivation is deepening the Afghan education crisis. With no option for advancement, Afghan women are protesting. They find the road ahead is dark. As they watch their future being robbed at gunpoint, they are seething. Their anger is raising the hackles of the United Nations, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, among others.

The globe has a valid grouse over Taliban’s frantic attempts to take Afghanistan back to its initial power-spell between 1996 and 2001. Girls were forbidden from education then. Two decades of America-backed government have hardly changed Taliban. Disturbed by its frozen mindset, Afghan statesmen and scholars too are tearing the Taliban apart.

Blatant Gender Discrimination

Ashraf Ghani, Afghanistan’s former president who fled when the Taliban took over, said: “This is a cruel example of gender apartheid in the 21st century.” Hamid Karzai, another former Afghan president, too expressed his “deep regrets” after the 20 December ban. Riled, the United States lost no time in lashing out at this blatant gender discrimination.

The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said: “The Taliban cannot expect to be a legitimate member of the international community until they respect the rights of all in Afghanistan.” Mr Blinken’s words stung US allies so much, they rushed in to heap harshness on Taliban. This marks a new low for Afghanistan.

Found it Easy to Renege

History is coming alive now for Afghanistan. Violation of women’s right to education is fracturing its society, long oppressed by religion. Yet, pro-Taliban voices continue to equivocate. Pakistan’s minister for foreign affairs Bilawal Zardari says he isn’t happy with the ban, yet he backs engagement. These words reflect the contradictions within the Islamic world.

True to such contradictions, most Islamic nations are glossing over Taliban’s failure to provide the promised ‘softer’ rule. Quite natural, the Taliban found it easy to renege on its promise, with no blowbacks. Pepped up, Sheikh Haibatullah Akhundzada, the Taliban’s supreme leader, appointed antagonists of women education.

A Million-Square-Kilometre Cell

Not surprising why the Taliban is not compromising its hardline stand on female education, despite scattered murmurs of internal disagreements. Sure, the 20 December ban reflects the thinking
of Taliban hardliners, who make up the mighty majority. In fact, they were responsible for the recent ban on women entering public parks, gyms, baths and swimming pools.

By making universities too out of bounds for Afghan women, the Taliban is only making sure the women are isolated from the professional mainstream. Worrying, with this ban, the Taliban is trying to turn Afghanistan into a huge 0.7 million-square- kilometre detention cell for women. A cell, where they can exist in physical form, but cannot live with their souls and spirits.

Slow-Poisoning the Rights

Such isolation will reduce Afghan women into residues of bigotry on their own land. Nothing new, Taliban-watchers may say. They saw this ban coming. Just three months ago, the Taliban had allowed Afghan women to take university entrance exams, with engineering, economics, veterinary science and agriculture blocked and journalism harshly restricted. Such conditions did foretell the arrival of this obnoxious ban.

The Taliban’s logic behind the ban is simple. The Taliban sees universities as breeding pools of liberal ideas. Not surprising, the Taliban has been targeting education since they took over from America in August 2021, after the government the latter had backed collapsed. Since then, Afghan women have been mute witnesses to the slow-poisoning of their educational rights.

Rights Vanishing in Stages

This slow-poisoning is despite Taliban’s promises to provide a ‘soft’ government and uphold women’s rights. Sad, the promises were just that. Since then, the Taliban has slapped discriminatory diktats on university women, gender-segregated university entry points and gender-demarcated classrooms, besides mandating women are taught only by women.

The Afghan women did see their rights vanish in stages, with their lips remaining sealed by guns. The current ban is aimed at their total sealing. Pre-ban, female enrolments in Afghan universities had moved up. This is another reason for the ban. The Taliban wants to ensure the current ban slams the brakes on Afghan girls, women and their exercisable rights to education. Taliban’s tenacity spells danger to Afghan women.

The Two Macro Glasses

The question of rights makes it mandatory to view the ban through two macro glasses. One, Afghan women are ready to die for their educational rights. This makes the ban a must for the Taliban. Two, hit by condemnations, the Taliban has grown more intolerant. The ban is a sign of a hardened Taliban gearing up to undo the raft of human rights achievements in the region.

Sure, the views through the two glasses are not pleasant. The current ban is a clue to a larger calamity in waiting. After this ban, the Taliban will be just a hop away from re-launching public floggings and open-air executions countrywide. The Taliban government has already reinstated the shariah law and did carry out the public execution of an individual. Widespread floggings and public executions may be in store.

Gains Will Evaporate

Such publicly-aired punitive displays will hurt incoming global aid. When aid dries up, the Afghan food crisis will precipitate into famine. A nonchalant Taliban may yet go on with the 20 December ban. The Taliban’s supreme leader may continue to nominate bigots to governmental positions. In the ensuing melee, education, natural ability and academic qualifications will matter the least. Bigotry will become the norm.

With bigots in command, shariah law and their draconian interpretations will return. This will make Afghan women, including over one million school-going girls, freeze in fear. They are sure to see the gains made by the America-backed government evaporate. One such gain was female literacy more than doubling to settle at 30 per cent. This gain will be the first casualty.

In Conclusion

Literacy apart, Afghan women had reaped a rich non-educational harvest then. Maternal mortality had declined. Female life expectancy had improved. Many women were among top professionals and entrepreneurs. With this ban, Afghan girls and women will fall behind in education, not to speak of their professional and social lives. They may risk their lives to learn underground. The ban bomb is sure to shatter the future, theirs and Afghanistan’s.