KABUL, Afghanistan — The head of a major international aid organization said Tuesday the secret Taliban Officials told her in meetings that they were close to finalizing guidelines that would allow Afghan women to resume working in non-governmental organizations. But he could not provide a timeline or details when pressed.
The Taliban last December banned Afghan women from working in NGOs, allegedly because they did not wear the hijab – the Islamic headscarf – correctly and did not adhere to segregationist laws. In April, he said the ban extended to UN offices and agencies in Afghanistan. There are discounts in certain areas such as health care and education.
Days before the NGO law went into effect, the Taliban banned women from universities, having already banned girls from going to school beyond the sixth grade. Last November, women were banned from public places, including parks.
In January, the Taliban said they were working to implement directives to allow women to return to work in NGOs. In the past, he said that he is trying to follow the instructions so that girls and young women can return to education, but this has not been achieved.
Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, is visiting Afghanistan for the second time in five months to pressure the country’s Taliban rulers to change a law banning the organization’s female workers.
Egeland met with the deputy governor of Kandahar, Maulvi Hayatullah Mubarak, who said that “he is in direct contact with the leader of the Taliban Hibatullah Akhundzada, who ordered the education and ban on NGOs. He also met with the head of Kandahar’s Economy Directorate, Mawlawi Abdul Salam Baryali.
“The officials in Kandahar have a special position since the emir (Akhundzada) lives in Kandahar,” he told The Associated Press. “Any agreement we can get in Kandahar could affect the whole country. These guidelines are almost finalized and should be implemented soon, that’s what was given.”
Egeland said he pressed Taliban officials to clarify the timing and clarity of the word “soon” but did not elaborate.
He was told that the Taliban could not guarantee anything because everything had to be given to the top leadership. He also told him that they have been working on the NGO issue for many months and many issues have been resolved.
The guidelines also cover dress codes, gender discrimination in the workplace, and escorts. Egeland warned that it would not be possible to lift the ban if the directive goes beyond that.
The Norwegian Refugee Council is on the verge of losing 40% of its funds in Afghanistan because of the ban on women and education, he said.
He said the potential loss would mean a 40% drop in the number of people reached. The agency has also laid off 220 of its 1,500 employees and closed five offices. But it keeps Afghan men and women unable to work because of the ban. The organization does not send only men’s teams.
“I believe their promises,” he said of the Taliban. But I’m just acknowledging the facts.
The spokesman for the Ministry of Finance, Abdul Rahman Habib, said it was too early to talk about the NGO’s instructions.
“If it comes from another source, we are not responsible,” he said. “We are the only source of confirmation. When the time is right we will make an official announcement.”
The Taliban have repeatedly told Afghan aid officials since December that the NGO restrictions are a temporary suspension, not a ban.
But the law is being quickly enforced by the country’s intelligence agency, which reports to the Taliban leadership in Kandahar.