The United States condemns recent attacks at mosques and education centers in Afghanistan that targeted civilians and schoolchildren.
“It's a huge concern to us right now in the middle of Ramadan,” said a senior State Department official. It is “inhumane,” “unjust” and “unacceptable” to target Afghan women, children and vulnerable populations.
Last Friday, Afghanistan’s Taliban authorities said a bomb blast inside a packed mosque in northeastern Kunduz province has killed at least 33 worshipers, including children.
There were no immediate claims of responsibility, though officials suspected Islamic State militants could be behind the bloodshed.
The deadly assault came a day after a bomb ripped through a Shiite Muslim mosque in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif, and days after attacks on the Mumtaz Education Center and the Abdul Rahim Shaheed School in Kabul.
The Taliban recognize that the security in Afghan and the rights of vulnerable populations are issues that the U.S. takes “very seriously,” said the official, while stopping short of elaborating on whether there has been direct communication with the Taliban on recent attacks.
Monday, U.S. Special Envoy Rina Amiri spoke to VOA State Department Bureau Chief Nike Ching about women, girls and human rights in Afghanistan.
She said the Taliban “should emphatically be held accountable” for a decision March 23 to renege on their commitment in girls’ education, continuing to bar girls in grades seven to 12 from attending school.
The U.S. has made it clear to the Taliban that “they have to implement on concrete deliverables to the Afghan population, including getting girls the right to school,” said Amiri when asked if the Taliban’s ban on girls’ education has made it even less likely for the U.S. to release frozen Afghan funds.
The following are excerpts from the interview. It has been edited for brevity and clarity.
VOA: First, I’d like to get your response on recent attacks against schools and mosques in Afghanistan, where children and civilians were among the victims. How worried is the U.S.?
Amiri: Oh, We're deeply … first, we extend our deep condolences to the families that have suffered so immensely, that are suffering even more devastating losses right now. It's a huge concern to us right now in the middle of Ramadan, and at a time that is holy for Muslims throughout the world. Afghan women, children and vulnerable populations are being targeted is inhumane. It's unjust and it's unacceptable.
VOA: Is there any communication with the Taliban regarding recent attacks?
Amiri: The Taliban recognize that this is an issue that we take very seriously. We are particularly concerned about the situation of the vulnerable populations, ethnic and religious groups that have been under increasing attack. And the situation of women and children are continuing to go in a very negative direction. The longer this continues in this way without robust response from the Taliban, the greater the country is going to suffer more devastating consequences.
VOA: In late March, the Taliban reversed their commitment and barred Afghan girls from attending school beyond sixth grade. You have joined other senior U.S. officials to condemn such [a] decision. But in reality, how would the Taliban be held accountable?
Amiri: The Taliban should emphatically be held accountable. The Taliban made commitments to the Afghan population and the international community that they would open up girls' schools on March 23. They did it repeatedly, they made the statement repeatedly even a week before they reneged on their decision. They had said that they would open up girls’ schools.
This is a decision that has been made from the top. And it's coming directly from the Taliban. There is no excuse for it. It's unacceptable. It has put Afghanistan in a reverse position and makes the situation - not just Afghan women and girls, but the population - it puts them at risk of greater poverty, greater suffering and greater instability.
If you look at anywhere in the world, the greatest indicator of a country's ability to progress - at an economic level in terms of peace in terms of stability - is the degree to which women and girls are engaged, are allowed education, are allowed the opportunity to work and to contribute to the viability of their country. You cannot just completely take away the rights of 50% of the population and expect to have a better outcome.”
VOA: Why did the Taliban make such [a] decision? Is it a reflection of [an] internal rift?
Amiri: I don't... I cannot speak on behalf of where the Taliban stands on these issues. But what I can say is that the decision that they're making is bad for the country. It's bad for the Taliban as a group, and it's bad for the viability of a secure and stable Afghanistan.
VOA: So this decision has made it even less likely [for the U.S.] to release the frozen Afghan funds?
Amiri: The Taliban understand that not only in the last six, seven months, but for the last several years, what has been very clear to the Taliban is that: They have to deliver on their commitments. They cannot just deliver on in terms of rhetoric. They have to implement on concrete deliverables to the Afghan population, including getting girls the right to school, for women to have the right to work and to create a culture of hope rather than a culture of repression.
The direction that they're taking the country - by making these decisions - that's going to lead to greater instability, greater conflict, greater migration, a greater brain drain. It’s a direction that's going to take Afghanistan on an even more negative course.
VOA: On March 14, 12 women received [the] State Department's International Women of Courage Award. But there was not an Afghan honoree, which was rare. How do you respond to critics who [say] it’s sending a disappointing message to Afghan women?
Amiri: There's a collective recognition - not just by the U.S., but globally, the international community - that the Afghan women are the bravest women. … Quite honestly, I think what I understand in terms of the deliberations is that it was very hard to come back and say we're going to pick one woman out of hundreds of thousands of brave Afghan women.
VOA: Does the fact that the U.S. does not maintain an embassy in Kabul make it more difficult to recommend an Afghan awardee?
Amiri: There were a host of different challenges and that certainly was one of them. It’s a situation [that] changed overnight on August 15, all of the efforts that were underway inside the country. There was a fundamental reorientation that had to be done in terms of how do you support them? How do you engage with the women inside the country and those that have been recently in exile? Given the situations with the Taliban and what they've done on women's rights, it’s appropriate to have an office (at the State Department) that is exclusively focused on these issues.