Taliban name new education minister amid UN criticism

Hard-liners face international opposition to their restrictions on girls’ education, as well as other policies curtailing basic freedom

The UN has urged the Taliban to allow girls back into all secondary schools in Afghanistan, calling the ban 'tragic and shameful'. EPA
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The Taliban have appointed a new education minister for Afghanistan, only days after the UN called on the country’s rulers to reopen schools for girls beyond sixth grade.

Since seizing power in Afghanistan more than a year ago, the Taliban have restricted the rights of girls to education, despite initial promises to the contrary. The UN estimates that more than 1 million girls have been barred from attending most of middle school and high school over the past year.

The appointment, which came late on Tuesday and was announced by Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujaihid, named Habibullah Agha, the current head of Kandahar Provincial Council, as the new education minister, replacing Noorullah Munir. The first Taliban-appointed education minister was Hemat Akhundzada, who was in the post until last September.

No information was available on Mr Agha.

A year since the Taliban took over the country as the Western-backed government and military crumbled, the UN says it is becoming increasingly concerned that Taliban restrictions on girls’ education, as well as other measures curtailing basic freedom, would deepen Afghanistan’s economic crisis and lead to greater insecurity, poverty and isolation.

“This is a tragic, shameful and entirely avoidable anniversary,” said Markus Potzel, acting head of the UN mission in Afghanistan.

The Taliban say they are working on a plan to open secondary schools for girls but have not given a timetable. Still, hard-liners appear to hold sway in the government and women are required to cover themselves from head to toe in public, with only their eyes showing.

While still education minister, Mr Munir was quoted as saying on a recent trip to the southern Uruzgan province that people in rural areas did not want to send their daughters to school, describing it as a “cultural issue.”

The Taliban also announced that Mohammad Mohsin Hashimi, until now the Taliban’s deputy interior minister, would become governor of the northern Panjshir province, where an anti-Taliban opposition force is still active.

Updated: September 21, 2022, 1:36 PM