Afghanistan risks becoming a forgotten crisis unless the Taliban reopens schools for girls, a top UN official warned on Tuesday.
The hardline Islamists sparked outrage last week after ordering girls’ secondary schools to shut down just hours after allowing them to reopen for the first time since seizing power seven months ago.
On Tuesday Achim Steiner, head of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), warned further delays in starting classes not only harmed the girls’ future, but risks Afghanistan being ignored.
“For us and the UN, this is a critical moment in which the world needs to understand Afghanistan,” he told reporters in Kabul at the end of a two-day visit.
“But the leadership of Afghanistan must also recognise that the world can very easily turn to other crises.”
If there were any “technical constraints” in reopening the schools the UN will make it a “top priority” to resolve them, Steiner said.
“But if it were to signal a more fundamental reversal on this principle, it would indeed create I think a crisis in the way that both the international community and the country could relate to one another,” he said.
The Taliban have not explained the reason for their dramatic U-turn, but senior leader Suhail Shaheen told AFP there were “practical issues” that needed to be resolved.
The international community has made women’s right to work and education a key condition for any foreign aid to be offered to Afghanistan, and for recognising the Taliban government.
Despite promising a softer version of their previous harsh regime, from 1996 until 2001, the Taliban restrictions have crept in.
Women are effectively shut out of most government jobs, and ordered to dress according to the Taliban’s strict interpretation of the Koran.
Earlier this week, the Taliban also ordered Afghanistan’s airlines to stop women from boarding flights unless they were escorted by a “mahram”, or adult male relative.
The Taliban have already banned women from solo inter-city travel.
During the previous Western-backed regimes that ruled Afghanistan for nearly 20 years, international aid represented 40 percent of Afghanistan’s GDP and financed 75 to 80 percent of its budget.
But that has now stopped since Afghanistan’s takeover by the Taliban, plunging the country into a deep humanitarian and economic crisis.