Taliban release two Americans detained in Afghanistan

Commentary

The Taliban released two Americans detained in Afghanistan on Tuesday in a deal that US officials described as a “goodwill gesture” by the longtime US adversary.

The release of the prisoners came the same day the Taliban drew international criticism for its decision to suspend university education for all female students in Afghanistan in the latest campaign against women’s and girls’ rights since the group came to power. last year.

Welcoming the release of the prisoners, State Department spokesman Ned Price also condemned the Taliban’s educational restrictions, saying he “should expect this decision, which contravenes commitments they have repeatedly and publicly made to his own people, will have costs. .”

Price declined to name the prisoners, citing respect for their privacy. One of the freed Americans is Ivor Shearer, a filmmaker detained over the summer while filming in the area where al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was killed by a US drone, a diplomat familiar with the statement said.

The diplomat declined to provide details of the other American, at the request of that person’s family.

The two prisoners arrived in Qatar on Tuesday before meeting their families, said officials, who like others spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive issue. His release was first reported by CNN.

The State Department declined to speculate whether the release of the prisoners was done to lessen the anger of the US and Western governments over the crackdown on the rights of women and girls in the country. Price noted that the “irony” of the goodwill gesture that occurred on the same day as the educational restrictions “is not lost on us.”

Months after taking control of Afghanistan in August 2021, the Taliban said girls would be able to enroll in all levels of education. But in March, the day the new school year began, Taliban officials proclaimed that classes for all girls above sixth grade would be postponed indefinitely.

Amid signs of dissent within Taliban leadership, officials said classes would resume once a new plan has been prepared to ensure education is carried out “in accordance with sharia law and Afghan culture.”

Many women attending the universities were allowed to continue, albeit only in gender-segregated classrooms.

In October, the Taliban said that female students could sit for university entrance exams, although they were barred from participating in at least half of the study courses offered, including journalism, economics and engineering.

New decrees in November barred women from using already segregated public toilets, gyms and public parks. They are also prohibited from traveling long distances without a male relative and are ordered to wear face coverings at all times when not at home.

According to a recent UN assessment, thousands of women have lost their government jobs, including some who have been asked to hand over their jobs to a male family member.

In the new order, dated Monday but released Tuesday, Higher Education Minister Neda Mohammad Nadeem said higher education for women had been “suspended…until further notice.”

The International Rescue Committee, which does humanitarian work in Afghanistan, called it a “chilling step backwards for Afghanistan.”

Without the presence of girls and women in schools and universities, the IRC said in a statement, “Afghanistan’s future falls apart. Efforts to rebuild Afghanistan after the economic collapse will be completely undermined. Many educated Afghans have already left in the last 18 months, and the country is in dire need of a future generation of doctors, teachers and civil servants.”

When they were in power between 1996 and 2001, the Taliban banned all female education, and the establishment of schools for girls was one of the few outright achievements of the US-backed governments of Afghanistan that ruled until the militants returned to power in 2021.

No country in the world recognizes the Taliban as Afghanistan’s legitimate government, although some, including Russia and China, have kept their embassies open in Kabul and conduct regular business with the Taliban rulers.

However, the United States and most others have frozen Afghan government assets and said there will be no recognition until the Taliban follow through on promises made upon their seizure of power, including full rights for women and minorities.

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