WASHINGTON: Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai has expressed fear for women and girls in Afghanistan as the Taliban has once again taken control of the war-torn country after 20 years of US military operations.
“The Taliban — who until losing power 20 years ago barred nearly all girls and women from attending school and doled out harsh punishment to those who defied them — are back in control. Like many women, I fear for my Afghan sisters,” Malala wrote in an op-ed published in New York Times on August 17. She added: “In the last two decades, millions of Afghan women and girls received an education. Now the future they were promised is dangerously close to slipping away.
“We will have time to debate what went wrong in the war in Afghanistan, but in this critical moment we must listen to the voices of Afghan women and girls. They are asking for protection, for education, for the freedom and the future they were promised. We cannot continue to fail them. We have no time to spare,” Malala also said.
However, the Taliban has vowed to “respect women’s rights” in the country.
Raising scepticism of the Taliban’s vow, Yousafzai wrote in New York Times: “Taliban’s history of violently suppressing women’s rights, Afghan women’s fears are real. Already, we are hearing reports of female students being turned away from their universities, female workers from their offices.”
Yousafzai, long an advocate for girls’ education, survived a Pakistani Taliban assassination attempt when she was just 15 years old when they shot her in the head.
Since then the Oxford graduate has become a global figure promoting education for girls. The terror group took control over Afghanistan on Sunday after entering the presidential palace in Kabul.
Meanwhile, Malala said that US President Joe Biden “has a lot to do” and must “take a bold step” to protect the Afghan people. The Pakistani women’s rights activist found refuge in the UK after being shot in the head by the Taliban in 2012.
She told BBC Two’s Newsnight it was time for world leaders – especially the UK and US – to act to protect civilians and refugees in the country.
“Countries need to open their borders to Afghan refugees”, she said.
Yousafzai, now 24, was 15 when she was targeted by the Taliban for speaking up for the right of girls to be educated.
She survived the assault, in which a militant boarded her school bus in the north-western Swat valley and opened fire, wounding two of her school friends as well.
After recovering from her near-fatal injuries, she and her family relocated to Birmingham. Aged 17, she later became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize. She studied at Oxford University, and has become a leading human rights campaigner.
In an exclusive interview with Newsnight on the plight of Afghanistan, Yousafzai said: “My request to all countries, especially the US, UK, and western countries, is that they must protect all those human and women’s rights activists right now.
“And you know what has happened, you know, we can definitely debate about that. But we also need to talk about the immediate next steps that we need to take. We need to talk more about the solutions right now.”
She accused America of making irresponsible statements in the light of the Taliban takeover.
“I think the way the US described this war and how it was declared as a victory, I think this sends a very wrong impression,” she said. “The Taliban waited for twenty years and they [US] are claiming their so-called victory after that.”
The US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, recently said that the US-led mission in Afghanistan had been a successful one.
Yousafzai said she has talked to other world leaders and members of the US and UK governments.
“I have been trying to reach out to many global leaders. I think every country has a role and responsibility right now. Countries need to open their borders to Afghan refugees, to the displaced people,” she said.