ISLAMABAD: Pakistani information minister Chaudhry Fawad Husain said on Monday new Taliban restrictions on women, including that they could not travel long distances alone, reflected “extremist” and “retrogressive” thinking, which was a “danger” to Pakistan.
Afghanistan’s Taliban authorities said on Sunday women seeking to travel anything other than short distances should not be offered transport unless they are accompanied by a close male relative.
The guidance, issued by the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, also called on all vehicle owners to offer rides only to women wearing hijabs.
Addressing a ceremony in Islamabad, Chaudhry said two “extremist regimes” had emerged on the “right and left of Pakistan,” referring to Western neighbor Afghanistan, where the Taliban seized power in August, and India in the east, where Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government is ruling.
“On one side there is Afghanistan where the Taliban have arrived [in power]. We want to fully help the people of Afghanistan, but to say over there that women can’t travel alone or go to school, go to college, this kind of retrogressive thinking is a danger for Pakistan,” the information minister said.
“In the same way, here [to the east], Hindu extremism is spreading,” the minister added. “The Pakistani state’s biggest battle is with these two types of extremist thinking.”
Chaudhry’s comments are sure to rattle the Taliban who, since taking over Kabul, have relied on Pakistan to make the case for their government to gain international recognition and receive international aid.
The Taliban has been under pressure from the international community, who have mostly frozen funds for Afghanistan, to commit to upholding women’s rights since the hard-line group took over the country on August 15. Respect for women’s rights has repeatedly been cited by key global donors as a condition for restoring aid.
“Women traveling for more than 45 miles (72 kilometers) should not be offered a ride if they are not accompanied by a close family member,” ministry spokesman Sadeq Akif MuHajjir said on Sunday, specifying that it must be a close male relative.
The guidance, circulated on social media networks, comes weeks after the ministry asked Afghanistan’s television channels to stop showing dramas and soap operas featuring women actors. The ministry had also called on women TV journalists to wear hijabs while presenting.
MuHajjir said Sunday that the hijab would also be required for women seeking transport. The ministry’s directive also asked people to stop playing music in their vehicles.
Early this month, the group issued a decree in the name of their supreme leader instructing the government to enforce women’s rights. The decree said women should not be considered “property” and must consent to marriage but failed to mention female access to education or work outside the home.
Women’s rights were severely curtailed during the Taliban’s previous stint in power from 1996 to 2001, the group banned women from leaving the house without a male relative and full face and head covering and girls from receiving an education.
The Taliban say they have changed and high schools for girls in some provinces have been allowed to open. But many women and rights advocates remain sceptical.