Sirajuddin Haqqani, Afghanistan’s acting interior minister and co-deputy leader of the Taliban since 2016, commented in an exclusive, first-on-camera interview with CNN’s Christian Amanpur in Kabul.
In March, the Taliban reversed their decision, postponing their return indefinitely, after many promises that girls would be admitted to secondary school.
When asked about Afghan women who say they are afraid to leave their homes under Taliban rule, and who point to a cooling effect of the militant group’s leadership, Haqqani added with a laugh: “We keep naughty women at home.”
After Amanpur was pressured to explain his remarks, he said: “By saying naughty women, it was a joke to refer to those naughty women controlled by any other party to question the present government.”
Haqqani has also set some parameters for the future of women and work, which will be limited by the Taliban’s interpretation of Islamic law and “national, cultural and traditional principles.”
“They have been allowed to work within their own framework,” he told Amanpur.
The Taliban minister was speaking in his first on-camera interview with a Western media outlet in years, just months after his first public appearance. A top-level and top-secret official has been wanted by the FBI, and the State Department has designated him a “specially designated global terrorist.” He has a $ 10 million prize in his head.
Her comments on girls ‘education and women’s rights marked a turning point in the Afghan government’s claim that “there is no one to oppose (girls’) education.”
“Girls are already allowed to go to school up to 6th grade, and above that grade, work is being done on a mechanism,” Haqqani said. “Soon, you will hear very good news about this problem, God willing,” he added without setting a deadline.
Later, Haqqani associates said the interview was an attempt to open a new chapter in relations with the United States and the world.
But the Taliban have repeatedly assured the international community that they will protect the rights of women and girls since the occupation of Afghanistan last August, at the same time depriving them of many freedoms and protections.
Many school-age girls and women have already lost hope. “Their whole government [is] Against girls’ education, “19-year-old Maryam told CNN on Tuesday.” I don’t believe the Taliban keep their promises … they don’t understand our feelings. ”
Fatima, 17, added: “Step by step they are taking away all our freedom.” “Now the Taliban and the Taliban of the 90’s are the same – I don’t see any change in their policies and rules.
“Our only hope is that the international community will put tremendous pressure on the Taliban to allow girls to go to school.” [will] Work. ”
Miriam and Fatima, like the other women who spoke to CNN, did not give their last names because of concerns about their safety.
Haqqani’s remarks will seldom encourage observers that the Taliban are serious about their promises. “Everyone in the Taliban leadership has zero credibility,” Heather Barr, associate director of the women’s rights division at Human Rights Watch, told CNN.
“They have presented their so-called respect for women and girls,” Barr added, since taking power. “Every day since then there has been a new crackdown on women and it has intensified over time.”
The G7 foreign minister and high-ranking EU envoy last week expressed their “strong opposition” to the Taliban’s growing restrictions on women’s and girls’ rights. “The justice, the research and the decision-making are all one-sided,” Haqqani told CNN.
When asked by Amanpur whether all women should cover their faces, Haqqani replied: “We are not forcing women to wear. [the] Hijab, but we are advising them and preaching to them from time to time … [the] The hijab is not obligatory, but it is an Islamic command that everyone should follow. ”
On the streets of Kabul, the growing isolation of women from society has put many in economic danger. “I have to work,” a woman named Khotima told CNN. “They should let us do the work because we have to have men in the family so we can find bread for the children.”
“When you don’t have money, when you don’t have money [a] Job, you have no income, if you don’t have a job, can you eat properly? “Added another woman named Farishta.
The United States is not an enemy “now,” Haqqani said
Haqqani was speaking to CNN two months after the minister released a rare photo of the minister at an event for Taliban police officers. Before that, he had rarely been seen in public; Her FBI “Most Wanted” poster has a grainy picture showing only part of her face.
Haqqani told CNN that “in the future, we want to have good relations with the United States and the international community,” adding: “We do not currently see them as enemies.”
But she reiterated her commitment to girls’ rights and education, which were opposed by global watchdogs and the government.
“The international community is raising the issue of women’s rights a lot. There are Islamic, national, cultural and traditional policies in Afghanistan,” she said. “Within the limits of these policies, we are working to give them the opportunity to work, and that is our goal.”
Afghan girls in Grade 6 were scheduled to return to school in March for the first time since the Taliban took over, but were told to stay home until appropriate school uniforms were made according to Sharia and Afghan customs and culture, the Taliban-run Bakhtar News Agency reported. .
Haqqani told CNN that leaders needed to delay in designing “mechanisms” through which girls could return to education. “There were some errors in the preparations that were ongoing. Work is underway on those issues,” he said.
But experts suspect that their motives differ from those of 1996 and 2001, when the first Taliban regime barred girls from studying.
“They always say the situation is not right now. [but they would] Get it out, ”Bar said.“ In these five years, that moment has never come. To women and girls very clearly, it has always been a lie, and it seems to be again. ”
Haqqani was also questioned about the condition of US veteran and contractor Mark Freirech, who was abducted in Kabul in late January 2020 and believed to be being held by the Haqqani network.
A life-provoking video, apparently shot in November 2021, appeared in April, where Freirech said: “I would like to request the leadership of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, please release me. Release me so that I can be reunited with my family.” . ”
Haqqani told CNN: “They think that he is with us … there is no obstacle from the emirate for his release.
“Assuming he can stay with us, I would like to say that we are part of the Islamic Emirate, we are committed to obeying the orders of the supreme leader Amirul Muminin,” he added. “Efforts are underway at the government level, and a team has been nominated to negotiate with them.”
Reaching for comment, a State Department spokesman told CNN: “The safe and immediate release of Mark Freirech, a U.S. citizen and veteran of the Navy, is essential. Hold on. “
CNN’s Jack Guy and Madalena Araujo contributed to this article.