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Girls turned away from school in Afghanistan as Taliban backtracks on education

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The last-minute decision comes after an earlier statement in the week urged “all students” to come to school for the start of the new term.

The decision to postpone a return of girls to school in higher levels appeared to be a concession to the rural and deeply tribal backbone of the hardline Taliban movement, that are reluctant to send their daughters to school.

Waheedullah Hashmi, external relations and donor representative with the Taliban-led administration, told The Associated Press: “It was late last night that we received word from our leadership that schools will stay closed for girls.

“We don’t say they will be closed forever.”

There have been persistent reports since the Taliban swept to power in August of differences among the senior leadership, with the more hardline at odds with the pragmatists among them.

The pragmatists reportedly want to see a greater engagement with the world and, while staying true to their Islamic beliefs, be less harsh than when they last ruled Afghanistan, banning women from work and girls from schools.

Television is allowed in Afghanistan today, unlike in the past, and women are not required to wear the all encompassing burqa but must wear the traditional hijab, covering their heads.

Women have also returned to work in the health and education ministry and at Kabul International Airport at passport control and custom.

The Taliban were ousted in 2001 by a U.S.-led coalition for harbouring al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and returned to power after America’s chaotic departure last August.

Girls have been banned from school beyond the age of 11 in most of the country since the Taliban‘s return. Universities opened up earlier this year in much of the country, but since taking power the Taliban edicts have been erratic and while a handful of provinces continued to provide education to all, most provinces closed educational institutions for girls and women.

The religiously-driven Taliban administration fears going forward with enrolling girls beyond Grade 6 could alienate their rural base, said Mr Hashmi.

“The leadership hasn’t decided when or how they will allow girls to return to school,” Mr Hashmi added.

While he accepted that urban centres are mostly supportive of girls education, much of rural Afghanistan is opposed, particularly in tribal Pashtun regions which make the core of the Taliban’s support.

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