Scholars and religious figures gathered in Kabul last week at a large-scale conference held by the Taliban government to make a series of policy decisions in line with Islamic law. The event — the largest of its kind since the Taliban took power in Afghanistan in August 2021 — was notably absent of women and any meaningful discussion about how to fix Afghanistan’s burgeoning economic crisis.
The decisions that emerged from the event were widely viewed as disappointing. Key talking points focused on strengthening the Taliban’s local and international legitimacy, while issues that were more pressing for the public – such as women’s education and employment and the economic crisis – were largely overlooked. Meanwhile, time and attention has been given to various religious figures who advocated violence and death in cases where people attempt to disregard or rise up against the Taliban.
Several resolutions were passed, including:
- An instruction that allegiance to Taliban leader Hebatullah Akhundzada is a religious obligation;
- assurances that the Taliban are the legitimate government of Afghanistan and that they have eliminated corruption from their ranks;
- A request that the United Nations and the broader global community recognize the Taliban’s claimed legitimacy; and
- A call on neighboring countries to respect Afghanistan’s autonomy and not support local opposition movements.
Other key takeaways included a plea to the public not to divide via social media and a statement that the terrorist organization ISIS-K – which carried out multiple attacks during the event – is seditious and that support is given to the organization or its members a breach of Sharia.
Despite the lack of a concrete plan for girls’ education, the event produced vague assurances that Afghanistan’s educational, health, agricultural and industrial sectors needed to be modernized and the rights of all citizens protected in accordance with Sharia law.
absence of women
In an op-ed published by the New York Times in February 2020, Sirajuddiin Haqqani, a Taliban deputy leader, vowed that the organization will respect women’s employment and education rights, stating, “I believe, freed from foreign domination and interference Together we will find a way to build an Islamic system in which all Afghans have equal rights, in which the rights granted to women by Islam – from the right to education to the right to work – are protected and where they are deserved the basis for equal opportunities.”
Last week’s event was the latest in a long line of illustrations that the Taliban have no intention of heeding those words. Earlier examples include the Taliban’s ban on access to co-ed parks, restrictions on university access for women, an erosion of women from the public sector, and bans on girls’ secondary education, to name a few.
Women’s rights groups in Afghanistan have sounded the alarm over the absence of women at last week’s Islamic scholars’ event. In response to this criticism, Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Salam Hanafi told local reporters that women were involved – insofar as they helped their sons and husbands prepare for the event. A direct consequence of the absence of women was that a key item on the agenda – solutions for secondary education for girls – was not even discussed at the event.
Of course, the issue of women’s participation in the country’s public affairs remains a contentious debate between the Taliban leadership and the Afghan people.
Mystery shrouds Taliban leaders
The event reportedly featured Taliban leader Hebatullah Akhundzada, but strict media regulations coupled with a lack of photographic evidence fueled widespread speculation about his safety and whereabouts.
First, Akhundzada reportedly only spoke to a small group of attendees, and the Taliban banned major national and international news outlets from disseminating his words. Only a handful of regional radio stations were authorized to broadcast parts of his speech. And those who did have provided a confusing mix of statements emphasizing the importance of working with the world community and statements calling for the need to defy foreign policies, even in the face of a nuclear threat.
A notable lack of photos of Akhundzada at the event has helped fuel speculation as to whether the leader is still alive and/or still a leader of the organization.
Despite extensive security efforts by the Taliban, at least two deadly attacks were carried out during the event, allegedly by members of the terrorist organization ISIS-K. At least 10 Taliban troops were killed and several civilians injured as a result of the attacks.