US warns Taliban of ‘costs’ over university ban for Afghan women

US secretary of state says Taliban is sentencing women and girls in Afghanistan to a ‘dark future without opportunity’.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has warned the Taliban that the United States will impose “costs” on the group if it does not reverse its recent ban on women attending university in Afghanistan.

Blinken said on Thursday that the Taliban-led government in Kabul will not be able to improve relations with the rest of the world if it continued to deny Afghan women their fundamental rights.

“What they’ve done is to try to sentence Afghan women and girls to a dark future without opportunity,” Blinken said during an end-of-year news conference in Washington, DC.

“And the bottom line is that no country is going to be able to succeed – much less thrive – if it denies half its population the opportunity to contribute.

“And to be clear, we’re engaged with other countries on this right now, there are going to be costs if this is not reversed if this has not changed,” said Blinken, without specifying what the measures might include.

Afghanistan’s aid-dependent economy is already under heavy US and Western sanctions following the Taliban’s takeover of the country last year amid the withdrawal of US troops, which ended a 20-year occupation.

In response to widespread fears of a return to the harsh policies that dominated the Taliban’s rule of Afghanistan in the 1990s, the group initially promised a more moderate government when it took power in August 2021.

But the move to suspend university education for women, announced earlier this week, sparked outrage across the world, including from several Muslim-majority countries that called on the Taliban to reverse the decree.

Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday that the ban was “neither Islamic nor humane”.

“What harm is there in women’s education? What harm does it do to Afghanistan?” Cavusoglu said. “Is there an Islamic explanation? On the contrary, our religion, Islam, is not against education; on the contrary, it encourages education and science.”

The Taliban has defended the restrictions, saying that they aim to preserve the “national interest” and women’s “honour”.

On Thursday, Blinken said condemnations of the decision by Muslim officials around the world were “important and powerful”.

The top US diplomat also defended the chaotic American withdrawal from Afghanistan last year.

“We ended America’s longest war. For the first time in 20 years, Americans will not be coming home from Afghanistan in a body bag or grievously injured,” he said.

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