The Taliban’s chief spokesman said Wednesday there are no obstacles for the U.N. to function in Afghanistan, after they barred Afghan women from working at the global body.
Last week, the country’s Taliban rulers took a step further in the restrictive measures they have imposed on women and said that female Afghan staffers employed with the U.N. mission can no longer report for work. The ban is being actively enforced by the country’s intelligence agency, which reports to the Taliban’s leadership in Kandahar.
The U.N. says it cannot accept the decision, calling it unlawful and an unparalleled violation of women’s rights. It says women are crucial for the delivery of life-saving aid to millions of Afghans, and has instructed its national staff, male and female, to stay at home.
Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban-led government’s chief spokesman and part of the supreme leader’s inner circle, denied authorities were to blame for Afghanistan’s many crises.
The decision to bar Afghan women from working at the U.N. was an internal matter and should be respected by all sides, Mujahid said, as he set out the Taliban’s position and demands to the international community.
“This decision does not mean there is discrimination here, or that the activities of the United Nations are blocked. On the contrary, we are committed to all the rights of all our countrymen, taking into account their religious and cultural interests.
“Considering the emergency situation in Afghanistan, it is necessary for the member countries of the United Nations to resolve the problem of frozen Afghan assets, banking, travel bans and other restrictions as soon as possible so that Afghanistan can progress in economic, political and security areas. Afghans have the capacity to stand on their own feet.”
Aid agencies have been providing food, education and health care support to Afghans in the wake of the Taliban takeover and the economic collapse that followed it. But distribution has been severely affected by a Taliban edict banning women from working at non-governmental organizations — and, now, also at the U.N, allegedly because they weren’t wearing the hijab, or Islamic headscarf correctly, or following gender segregation.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Abdul Qahar Balkhi, called the order barring Afghan women from NGO and U.N. work “an internal values-based issue” that is not harming others.
The United Nations’ head of mission in the country, Roza Otunbayeva, has “initiated an operational review period” lasting until May 5 in response to the ban, according to a U.N. statement.
During this time, the U.N. will “conduct the necessary consultations, make required operational adjustments, and accelerate contingency planning for all possible outcomes,” a veiled suggestion that it could move to suspend its mission and operations in the embattled country.
The U.N. has warned that its Afghan operations are also under threat because of a severe funding crisis, putting millions of lives at risk.
“Already, the food basket has had to be cut to half due to insufficient resources. If funding is not urgently secured, millions of Afghans will be staring down the barrel of famine, disease & death,” its office for humanitarian affairs said in a tweet Wednesday.
No country has recognized the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan and the country’s seat at the U.N. is held by the former government of President Ashraf Ghani.