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Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers force women back into burqas

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Afghanistan’s Taliban regime has ordered women to wear the burqa or face severe punishment, a move that shatters hopes the country’s hard-line Islamic rulers represent a more moderate version of the fundamentalist government that once hosted master terrorist Osama bin Laden.

All Afghan women must cover themselves from head to toe and can reveal only their eyes in public settings.

The announcement confirms the worst fears of rights activists and is bound to further complicate the Taliban’s dealings with an already distrustful international community.

The decree evoked similar restrictions on women during the Taliban’s previous rule between 1996 and 2001.

“We want our sisters to live with dignity and safety,” Khalid Hanafi, acting minister for the Taliban’s vice and virtue ministry, said on Saturday.

The Taliban previously decided against reopening schools to girls above grade six, reneging on an earlier promise and opting to appease their hard-line base at the expense of further alienating the international community.

That decision disrupted efforts by the Taliban to win recognition from potential international donors at a time when the country is mired in a worsening humanitarian crisis.

Ministry of Vice and Virtue

“For all dignified Afghan women wearing hijab is necessary and the best hijab is chadori (the head-to-toe burqa), which is part of our tradition and is respectful,” said Shir Mohammad, an official from the vice and virtue ministry in a statement.

“Those women who are not too old or young must cover their faces, except the eyes,” he said.

The decree added that if women had no important work outside it was better for them to stay at home.

“Islamic principles and Islamic ideology are more important to us than anything else,” Mr Hanafi said.

Senior Afghanistan researcher Heather Barr of Human Rights Watch urged the international community to put coordinated pressure on the Taliban.

“[It is] far past time for a serious and strategic response to the Taliban’s escalating assault on women’s rights,” she wrote on Twitter.

The Taliban were ousted in 2001 by a US-led coalition for harbouring al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and returned to power after America’s chaotic departure last year.

Since taking power last August, the Taliban leadership has been squabbling among itself as it struggles to transition from war to governing. It has pit hard-liners against its more pragmatic members.

Hypocrisy unveiled

Infuriating many Afghans is the knowledge that many younger Taliban, like Sirajuddin Haqqani, are educating their daughters in Pakistan, while in Afghanistan women and girls have been targeted by their repressive edicts.

Girls have been banned from school beyond grade six in most of the country since the Taliban’s return.

Universities opened earlier this year in much of the country, but since taking power the Taliban edicts have been erratic. While a handful of provinces continued to provide education to all, most provinces closed educational institutions for girls and women.

In the capital, Kabul, private schools and universities have operated uninterrupted.

-AAP