Afghan women and children, who are among displaced families fleeing the violence in their provinces, stand at a makeshift shelter at Shahr-e Naw Park, in Kabul, Afghanistan October 4, 2021. (Jorge Silva/Reuters)

The Taliban has decided to cancel plans to offer schooling to girls above the sixth grade, backtracking on an earlier pledge in an effort to pacify its Islamic fundamentalist base in the rural countryside of Afghanistan.

Waheedullah Hashmi, external relations and donor representative with the Taliban, informed the Associated Press of the news Wednesday.

“It was late last night that we received word from our leadership that schools will stay closed for girls,” said Hashmi. “We don’t say they will be closed forever.”

The radical organization’s socially regressive pivot vindicates naysayers in the U.S. who were skeptical when the Taliban promised to be more human-rights conscious after U.S.-led forces withdrew in August. The Taliban’s discontinuation of higher education for girls in Afghanistan is a significant step back for women, who spent years being oppressed under the group’s rule starting in the late 1990s. Hasmi suggested that this could be a temporary decision, however.

The Taliban administration has reportedly been racked with internal conflict, with the more orthodox pro-sharia wing sparring with those who want to keep lines of communication open with the international community. Some officials in the senior leadership have recommended a less strict regime than the Taliban’s first reign, during which women and girls were banned from work and school, the AP noted.

Aziz-ur-Rahman Rayan, a spokesman for the Ministry of Education, told the New York Times that the secondary school cancellation for girls was related to a shortage of religious uniforms and female teachers required to segregate classes by sex.

While schools reopened in September for grades seven through 12 after the Taliban took over, female students were disallowed from attending. The Taliban then released an update that girls could return to school in March. The group’s renewed ban on girls seeking eduction above grade-six, confirmed by Hasmi to be a concession to extremist cohorts, broke that promise.

While the Taliban has kept the country mired in backwards rules and social structures, in comparison to the rest of the world, there have been some improvements and moves towards modernization. For example, television is no longer outlawed in Afghanistan and women don’t need to wear a full-coverage burqa on their heads at all times.

However, shortly after Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, most women were told to stay home unless their job could not be done by men. Women were largely excluded from the new hardline government, although thousands of female employees have reportedly been invited back to work in the health and education ministry.

“The leadership hasn’t decided when or how they will allow girls to return to school,” he said. In urban areas, such as the capital city of Kabul, school is mostly still in session at the grade and university levels, but in the rural areas, sending girls to schools is still taboo, he told the AP.

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