Pakistan ‘disappointed’ by Taliban ban on university education for girls but still wants engagement – World

Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Tuesday voiced disappointment over the Taliban’s ban on university education for women but said the best approach remained engagement with Afghanistan’s rulers.

“I’m disappointed by the decision that was taken today,” Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said on a visit to Washington.

But he said: “I still think the easiest path to our goal — despite having a lot of setbacks when it comes to women’s education and other things — is through Kabul and through the interim government.”

Bilawal said there were no alternatives to the Taliban, warning of further instability in Afghanistan or the rise of the Islamic State group.

“Is the alternative for us to imagine that we can somehow artificially stitch together an alternate opposition that can command the same sort of legitimacy?”

The Taliban, who had initially promised a softer approach than during their 1996-2001 regime, on Tuesday banned university education for women after already closing down secondary schooling for girls.

The United States, whose troop withdrawal from Afghanistan last year precipitated the collapse of the Western-backed government, warned that the Taliban decision could permanently end any hopes by the militants for a positive relationship.

But Bilawal said it was even more crucial to ensure economic support “to create the political space necessary for those within the Afghan regime who actually believe that they should deliver” on rights issues.

Separately, the Foreign Office also urged Afghan authorities to revisit its decision to suspend university education for women.

“Pakistan is disappointed to learn about the suspension of university and higher education for female students in Afghanistan,” FO spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch said.

“Pakistan’s position on this issue has been clear and consistent. We strongly believe that every man and woman has the inherent right to education in accordance with the injunctions of Islam.

“We strongly urge the Afghan authorities to revisit this decision,” she added.

Meanwhile, Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai said: “The Taliban may lock all the classrooms and university gates in the country — but they can never lock up women’s minds. They cannot stop girls from seeking knowledge. They cannot kill the quest to learn.”

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