Does this expose an internal rift?
The Taliban’s decision to leave out women from the interim government announced on Tuesday has weighed heavily on their reputation. Zabiulllah Mujahid, the chief Taliban spokesman who becomes information minister in the new government, had promised women participation in his first-ever press conference on August 17.
The Taliban also seem to have gone back on their pledge to form an inclusive government – the other major promise Mujahid made last month. The cabinet they announced on Tuesday includes not a single representative from other political groups in the country.
Women have not been allowed back to the workplace though the Taliban claim they will be, once rules regulating their work environment are laid out. Pending this, they say, women workers would continue to receive salaries without needing to leave their homes.
Many of the Afghan women, however, have refused to stay behind closed doors. They continue to protest, defying the ban the Taliban announced on Wednesday.
The US State Department has expressed concerns over the Taliban cabinet which include core Taliban leaders or their aides.
When the Deputy Head of Cultural Commission Ahmedullah Wasiq was asked about the lack of women participation, he said the list of the cabinet members had not been finalized and more names could be included. He did not say if the new names would be that of women.
When the first Afghan King Amanullah Khan took over the country after winning independence from Britain in 1919, his wife drew considerable attention for her liberal views on purdah and marriage. A woman holding such views was unusual in Afghan culture.
Amanullah, however, declared that his wife was to work as education minister. It settled the debate on Queen Soraya Tarzi’s role in Afghanistan.
Women were part of successive Afghan governments, especially under the reign of King Zahir Shah. However, when the Taliban came to power in 1996, they banned all government and non-government associations of women in the country.
The first ministry of women was formed only after the Taliban were driven out of Kabul in 2001. Sima Samar became the first Minister for Women’s Affairs. When the Taliban captured Kabul on August 15, 2021, Hasina Safi held the charge. The ministry of women affairs no longer exists in the new Taliban government.
Pakistani journalist Farzana Ali, who is the Peshawar Bureau Chief at Aaj News, has just returned from Kabul. She says there was nothing inclusive about the government the Taliban announced. Speaking to SAMAA Digital, she said the Taliban had included their own people in the cabinet, claiming they represented ethnic groups.
The move has caused concern among political circles in Afghanistan where people are unlikely to accept it, she said.
Dr Qibla Ayaz, who heads the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) in Pakistan, says that the Taliban had announced only an interim government and any permanent government is expected to be inclusive and in line with the promises the Taliban made.
Farzana Ali says from the moment the Taliban took over women were feared to lose whatever position they enjoyed up to that point and it came as no surprise that the Taliban cabinet included not a single woman. However, she said, in future, the Taliban may ask women who subscribe to their ideology to join the government. They are not likely to invite anyone from previous governments because most women politicians have either left the country or would not like to work with the Taliban, she said.
The Taliban would feel compelled to offer education, jobs, and even participation in the government to women to win international recognition, Farzana Ali said.
Dr Ayaz says the Shariah does not impose restrictions on women’s active political role. The Taliban must give representation to women in the cabinet, he said.
He said the Taliban should invite respectable purdah-observing woman to the cabinet. Woman’s representation was a prerequisite for the Taliban to win international legitimacy, he argued.
When Farzana Ali was asked if participation was likely to end or reduce problems faced by Afghan women, she said it was too early to expect such a result. However, she said, it may provide Afghan women with some hope and the Taliban with a good reputation.
She said a good head-start was likely to benefit Afghan women eventually. A harsh Taliban rule will have a devastating effect on women living in cities such as Kabul, Herat, and Tukhar as many of them had built professional careers.
But most Afghan women live in the countryside. Dr Ayaz said the Taliban rule would change little for rural women, whose lives could improve only if the Taliban offered good governance and basic amenities such as education and health. Farzana Ali agrees.
Journalist Farzana Ali has not heard about any women working for the Taliban or taking part in the movement. The Taliban have never asked women to work for them because most of them think women should not step out without a mehram or male escort, she said.
CII head Dr Ayaz told SAMAA Digital that although women had no role in the Taliban movement, the group members held two opposing views on the issue.
The Taliban are divided on the type of government they need to form, Farzana Ali says. One camp includes people who have been living other countries, especially in Qatar, for several years. The other camp comprises battlefield commanders who fought in Jalalabad and Kandahar.
The Qatar political office has been reaffirming that the new government would protect women rights, but the majority holding the ground in Afghanistan does not support the view, Farzana Ali said.
“It is true,” Dr Ayaz said. While people who have been interacting with the world through the Qatar office have one viewpoint, the militant group objects to the possibility of their former enemies sharing government with them.
They believe it would amount to overlooking “the sacrifices” they made in the 20-year war, he said.
Perhaps the Taliban continue to hold internal discussions and the current government has been formed only to run the country until final consensus emerges on all issues, Dr Ayaz said.
The permanent cabinet could be announced after that, he concluded.