ISLAMABAD/WASHINGTON - The United States Friday renewed criticism of Afghanistan's Islamist Taliban for reneging on promises they would govern the country in a responsible way and respect the rights of all Afghans, including women.
John Kirby, the U.S. National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, told VOA the Taliban will continue to isolate itself from the international community unless they reverse restrictions on women.
"So, if the Taliban wants to be considered legitimate, if they want the recognition of the international community, if they want financial aid and investment in their country, then they should meet their promises, meet their obligations, and behave accordingly," Kirby stressed.
The Taliban seized control of Afghanistan in August 2021 and have since implemented harsh restrictions that severely curtail the rights of women and girls to participate in social, economic and political life.
The hardline rulers have turned Afghanistan into the only country in the world where girls are banned from attending secondary schools and universities.
The Taliban also have banned Afghan women from working for national and international nongovernmental organizations that provide humanitarian aid to millions of people in the conflict-ravaged country. Women also have been ordered to stop using parks, gyms and public bathhouses.
The human rights concerns have deterred the global community from formally recognizing the Taliban as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan.
The Taliban reject criticism of their polices, saying they are governing the country in line with Afghan culture and their interpretation of Islamic Sharia law - though scholars in Muslim-majority countries dispute those assertions, saying Islam gives full rights to women to work and seek education.
Kirby also questioned the de facto rulers' counterterrorism operations against Islamic State militants in Afghanistan.
"[The Taliban] are constantly under threat by ISIS in Afghanistan. ... We know that ISIS remains still a viable threat, a credible threat, not just in Afghanistan, but in other parts of the world too," Kirby said, using an acronym for the Islamic State terrorist group, which is also known as ISIL or IS.
The Afghan affiliate of the militant outfit, known as Islamic State Khorasan or ISIS-K, has routinely carried out high-profile attacks in the Afghan capital of Kabul, and elsewhere in the country in recent months, killing scores of people.
Neighboring Pakistan also increasingly alleged in recent days that fugitive leaders of the outlawed Pakistani Taliban, also called Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), have increased cross-border terrorist attacks.
The latest attack occurred Monday when a suicide bombing ripped through a packed mosque in the Pakistani city of Peshawar, killing more than 100 people and wounding 225 others. The victims were mostly police officers.
Pakistani officials in Islamabad again pointed fingers at authorities in Kabul for not preventing TTP from launching cross border attacks and raising bilateral tensions. Taliban leaders reject the charges, saying they are not allowing any group to use Afghan soil for such activities.
Kirby noted Friday that the people of Pakistan remain under threat of terrorism from the Pakistani Taliban.
"There's no question about that. And sadly, we've seen that borne out in recent days in a bloody, bloody way," he said.
"We obviously will continue to stay in touch with Islamabad to see what we could do, what might be possible," Kirby added when asked whether Washington would support Islamabad in countering the terrorist threat emanating from Afghanistan. He did not elaborate.
Meanwhile, the United Nations demanded Friday that the Taliban release a university lecturer and education activist recently detained by security forces in the Afghan capital.
The detainee in question, Ismail Mashal, had reportedly been distributing academic and other books on Kabul's streets after tearing up his own diploma on live television in protest of the Taliban's decision to ban female students from higher education.
"It's a very concerning development. The professor should be released immediately," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told a daily briefing in New York. "This is just yet another sign of the backsliding, shall we say, that we are seeing in Afghanistan with the de facto authorities, especially on issues of education for women and girls."
A senior Taliban official claimed in a statement that Mashal had been arrested by security forces for gathering a crowd of journalists and for launching "propaganda against the government."
Abdul Haq Hammad, head of media monitoring at the Taliban information ministry, claimed that he had visited the detained lecturer and found he was being held in good conditions and had been able to contact his family.