Sirajuddin Haqqani, Afghan interim interior minister and co-deputy leader of the Taliban since 2016, made the comments in an exclusive first on-camera interview, showing his face with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in Kabul.
In March, after many promises that girls would be able to attend secondary school, the Taliban reversed their decision, postponing the return indefinitely.
When asked about Afghan women who say they are afraid to leave their homes under Taliban rule and those who have reported the deterrent effect of militant leadership, Haqqani added with a laugh: “We keep rebellious women at home.”
After Amanpour demanded that his comment be clarified, he said, “Talking about naughty women was a joke referring to those naughty women who are being controlled by some other parties to question the current government.”
Haqqani also laid out some parameters for the future of women and work, which would be limited by the Taliban’s interpretation of Islamic law and “national, cultural and traditional principles”.
“They are allowed to work within their own framework,” he told Amanpour.
The Taliban minister gave his first interview to Western media in years, just months after showing his face in public for the first time. The high-ranking and highly secretive official is wanted by the FBI and has been classified by the US State Department as a “Global Special Purpose Terrorist”. There is a $10 million bounty on his head.
His comments on girls’ education and women’s rights were punctuated by a series of statements that “there is no one in the Afghan government who opposes (girls’) education.”
“Girls are already allowed to go to school until grade 6, and above that grade, work continues on the mechanism,” Haqqani said. “Very soon you will hear very good news on this issue, God willing,” he added, without specifying the timing.
Subsequently, Haqqani aides said the interview was an attempt to open a new chapter in relations with the US and the world.
But the Taliban have repeatedly assured the international community that they will protect the rights of women and girls since their takeover of Afghanistan last August, while depriving them of many of their freedoms and protections.
Many girls and women of school age have already given up hope. “All their government [is] against the education of girls, 19-year-old Maryam told CNN on Tuesday. “I don’t believe the Taliban are keeping their promises… they don’t understand our feelings.”
“Step by step, they are taking away all our freedoms,” added 17-year-old Fatima. – The Taliban now and the Taliban of the 90s are the same – I do not see any changes in their policies and rules.
“Our only hope is that the international community is putting extreme pressure on the Taliban to allow girls to go to school. Nothing else. [will] Work.”
Maryam and Fatima, like other women CNN spoke to, did not give their last names for security reasons.
Haqqani’s comments are likely to do little to confirm to observers that the Taliban are serious about their commitment. “No one in the Taliban leadership is trustworthy on this issue,” Heather Barr, deputy director of women’s rights at Human Rights Watch, told CNN.
“They were proclaiming their supposed respect for women and girls,” Barr added after taking office. “Every day after that, new repressions against women took place, and over time they continued to intensify.”
G7 foreign ministers and the European Union High Representative last week expressed “the strongest opposition” to the growing restrictions imposed by the Taliban on the rights of women and girls. Haqqani told CNN that “the judgment, research and decision-making of the international community is one-sided,” adding, “We are still in the preliminary phase. It has only been eight months since we came to power… we have yet to get things back on track.”
Asked by Amanpour if all women should cover their faces, Haqqani replied, “We don’t force women to wear [the] hijab, but we advise them and preach to them from time to time… [the] The hijab is not mandatory, but it is an Islamic order that everyone must observe.”
On the streets of Kabul, the growing isolation of women from society has put many in economic danger. “I need to work,” a woman named Hotima told CNN. “They must let us work because we must become the men of the family so that we can find bread for the children.”
“When you don’t have money, when you don’t have [a] work, you have no income, can you eat right when there is no work?” added another woman named Farishta.
Haqqani says the US is “not currently” an enemy
Haqqani spoke to CNN two months after the Taliban released rare photos of the minister at a police ceremony. Prior to this, he was rarely seen in public; his FBI “Most Wanted” poster only features a grainy photograph showing part of his face.
Haqqani told CNN that “in the future, we would like to have good relations with the United States and the international community,” adding, “We do not currently view them as enemies.”
But he repeatedly assured us of women’s rights and girls’ education, which contradicted the observations of world observers and governments.
“The international community often raises the issue of women’s rights. Here in Afghanistan there are Islamic, national, cultural and traditional principles,” he said. “Within these principles, we are working to provide them with opportunities to work, and this is our goal.”
Afghan girls older than grade 6 were scheduled to return to school in March for the first time since the Taliban took over, but have been ordered to stay at home until appropriate school uniforms are designed in accordance with Sharia and Afghan customs and culture. This was reported by the news agency at the time.
Haqqani told CNN the delay was necessary while leaders develop a “mechanism” by which girls can return to education. “There were some shortcomings in the preparation that was carried out. Work on these issues continues,” he said.
But experts have expressed skepticism that their motives are different from those from 1996 to 2001, when the first Taliban regime banned girls from school.
“They always said that the conditions are not the same now [but they would] figure it out,” Barr said. “In five years, that moment has never come. So it’s very clear to women and girls that this has always been a lie, and this time too.”
Haqqani was also interrogated about the status of Mark Frerichs, a US veteran and contractor who was abducted in Kabul in late January 2020 and is believed to be being held by the Haqqani network.
In April, a life-proof video, apparently filmed in November 2021, surfaced, in which Frerihs said: “I would like to ask the leadership of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan to please release me. Release me so I can be reunited.” with my family.”
Haqqani told CNN: “This is what they think he is with us… There is no obstacle from the Emirate to his release. If the United States accepts the terms of the Islamic Emirate, the issue of his release can be decided in a day.
“On the assumption that he may be with us, I want to say that we are part of the Islamic Emirate, we are committed to obey the orders of Amirul Mominin, the Supreme Leader,” he added. “Efforts are ongoing at the government level and a team has been assigned to negotiate with them.”
When contacted for comment, a US State Department spokesman told CNN: “The safe and immediate release of U.S. citizen and Navy veteran Mark Frerichs is imperative. We made this clear to the Taliban and urged them to immediately release him in almost every conversation. over the past two years.”
Jack Guy of CNN and Madalena Araujo contributed to this article.