A top U.N. envoy met with the Taliban-led Afghan government’s higher education minister Saturday to discuss the ban on women attending universities.
Taliban authorities on December 20 ordered public and private universities to close for women immediately until further notice. It triggered widespread international condemnation, including from Muslim-majority countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.
Markus Potzel is the first international official to meet with Taliban Higher Education Minister Nida Mohammad Nadim since the ban was introduced last month.
Nadim has defended the ban, saying it is necessary to prevent the mixing of genders in universities and because he believes some subjects violate Islamic principles.
That ban was followed days later by a ban on Afghan women working for national and international non-governmental groups, another decision that caused global condemnation and the suspension of work by major aid agencies.
The U.N. mission in Afghanistan said that Potzel called for the urgent lifting of these bans in his meeting with Nadim, saying the country is entering a new period of crisis.
Nadim told Potzel the ministry was working for the development and improvement of Afghans, with the protection of Islamic and national values, according to information shared by ministry spokesman Ziaullah Hashmi.
He said opponents were criticizing the implementation of Islamic affairs, using education as an argument to achieve their “evil goals.”
“We need to make sure there is no place for them to criticize and, at the same time, fulfill the wishes of Afghans who have made sacrifices for Islamic rule and the implementation of Sharia rules in the country,” Nadim told Potzel at the meeting.
He also said Afghanistan’s rulers will not accept anyone’s demands in the form of pressure against Islamic principles.
Potzel thanked Nadim for his time, saying the higher education of any country has a direct impact on the economic situation of that country, according to the ministry spokesman.
The envoy promised to cooperate in the development of Afghanistan’s higher education and shared his plan for female education with Nadim.
Potzel has also met with Economy Minister Qari Din Mohammed Hanif, who issued the NGO ban; Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Salam Hanafi; Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani and former President Hamid Karzai in recent days to discuss the crackdowns on women and girls.
The discussions come ahead of a closed-door meeting of the U.N. Security Council on January 13 about Afghanistan.
Nadim, a former provincial governor, police chief and military commander, was appointed minister in October by the supreme Taliban leader and previously pledged to stamp out secular schooling. He opposes female education, saying it is against Islamic and Afghan values.