A Pakistani government minister Monday criticized neighboring Afghanistan’s ruling Islamist Taliban for placing curbs on women, denouncing the curbs as “retrogressive thinking” and as posing threat to his country.
Information Minister Fawad Hussain, while speaking to an Islamabad gathering, described the new Taliban government in Kabul as an “extremist regime.”
“We want to fully help the people of Afghanistan. But saying that women can’t travel alone or go to schools and colleges — this kind of a retrogressive thinking is a threat to Pakistan,” Hussain said.
It is extremely rare for Pakistani officials to publicly criticize the Taliban who have returned to power in Afghanistan, allegedly with the covert support of Pakistan’s military — charges Islamabad denies.
Hussain spoke a day after the Taliban Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice issued a new directive for women, limiting their ability to travel farther than 72 kilometers unless accompanied by a close male relative. It also advised taxi drivers in Afghanistan to offer rides only to women wearing an Islamic hijab or a headscarf.
Ministry spokesman Sadiq Akif Mahajer defended the restrictions, telling VOA they were in line with Sharia, or Islamic law.
The latest restrictions come weeks after the Taliban asked Afghan television channels to stop showing dramas and soap operas featuring actresses and to require female news anchors to wear hijabs while on the air.
The Taliban militarily regained control of Afghanistan in August as the Western-backed Afghan government and its security forces collapsed in the final stages of the withdrawal by the U.S.-led international forces from the country.
The Islamist movement has since prevented most Afghan women from returning to work and schoolgirls from resuming classes across many provinces, despite pledging a more moderate rule compared with their harsh regime from 1996 to 2001.
No country has recognized the Taliban government, and the global community is refusing to directly engage with Kabul over human rights and terrorism concerns, even as Afghan humanitarian needs have risen to record levels.
The United Nations estimates nearly 23 million Afghans face hunger because of years of war, drought and extreme poverty.
Last week, Pakistan hosted an emergency conference of Islamic countries, with U.S, Russian, Chinese, and European envoys in attendance, to mobilize increased humanitarian assistance for Afghans. Islamabad has also dispatched scores of trucks carrying food and medicines to the conflict-hit country since the Taliban takeover in mid-August.
Islamabad is worried the worsening Afghan humanitarian and economic crisis could send more refugees to Pakistan and others neighboring countries.
Pakistani leaders have repeatedly urged the Taliban to listen to and address international concerns about rights of Afghan women, fighting terrorism and governing the country inclusively.
The Taliban, however, dismiss criticism of their government and polices as interference in internal Afghan affairs, saying they are ruling the country within the framework of Sharia.
Taliban chief spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, in a recent media interview, defended his group’s interpretation of Islamic laws and condemned governance systems in Muslim countries, including Pakistan, as un-Islamic.