Thousands of Afghan religious academics and tribal elders gathered in the capital yesterday for a loya jirga, a meeting that the Taliban hope will rubber-stamp their hardline Islamic rule.
Officials have provided scant details of the jirga — a traditional gathering of influential men that settles differences by consensus — and the media has been barred from attending.
It comes a week after a powerful earthquake struck the east of the country killing more than 1,000 people and leaving tens of thousands homeless.
Even before the quake, the Taliban were struggling to administer a country that had long been in the grip of economic malaise, utterly dependent on foreign aid that dried up with the overthrow of the Western-backed government in August last year.
Officials from the US were due to meet senior Taliban leaders in Qatar later yesterday for talks on unlocking some of Afghanistan’s frozen currency reserves, with Washington seeking to ensure that the money goes to help the population rather than the Islamist group.
A Taliban source this week said that criticism of the regime would be allowed at the three-day jirga, and thorny issues such as the education of girls — which has divided opinion in the movement — would be discussed.
However, women are not allowed to attend, with Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Salam Hanafi telling state broadcaster RTA on Wednesday that there was no need, because they would be represented by male relatives.
“The women are our mothers and sisters... We respect them a lot,” he said. “When their sons are in the gathering, it means they are also involved.”
Since the Taliban’s return, secondary-school girls have been barred from education, while women were dismissed from government jobs, forbidden from traveling alone and ordered to dress in clothing that covers everything but their faces.
They have also outlawed playing nonreligious music, banned the portrayal of human figures in advertising, ordered TV channels to stop showing movies and soap operas featuring uncovered women, and told men they should dress in traditional outfits and grow their beards.
A letter from the prime minister’s office said that each of Afghanistan’s more than 400 districts should provide three delegates to the meeting.
Cities, religious groups and other organizations would also be sending representatives, bringing the gathering to more than 3,000 — the biggest leadership collective since the Taliban returned to power.
A long trek across the desert of northeastern Niger brings visitors to one of the most astonishing and rewarding sights in the Sahel: fortified villages of salt and clay perched on rocks with the Saharan sands laying siege below. Generations of travelers have stood before the “ksars” of Djado, wondering at their crenelated walls, watchtowers, secretive passages and wells, all of them testifying to a skilled, but unknown hand. Who chose to build this outpost in a scorched and desolate region — and why they built it — are questions that have never been fully answered. Just as beguiling is why it
‘NATURAL CAUSES’: New evidence indicated Kathleen Folbigg’s two daughters died of myocarditis caused by genetics, while a son died of a neurogenetic disorder An Australian woman who spent 20 years in prison was pardoned and released yesterday based on new scientific evidence that her four children died by natural causes as she had insisted. The pardon was seen as the quickest way of getting Kathleen Folbigg out of prison and a final report from the second inquiry into her guilt could recommend that the state Court of Appeals quash her convictions. Folbigg, now 55, was released from a prison in Grafton, New South Wales, following an unconditional pardon by state Governor Margaret Beazley. Australian state governors are figureheads who act on instructions of governments. New South
RE-ENGAGEMENT: Both sides described the talks as ‘candid’ and ‘productive,’ with the US State Department saying that it wants to restore ‘high-level diplomacy’ Senior US and Chinese officials yesterday held “candid” talks in Beijing, days after the two countries’ defense chiefs squared off at a security forum. US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink met with Chinese Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Ma Zhaoxu (馬朝旭), becoming the most senior US official to publicly travel to Beijing since an alleged Chinese spy balloon was downed in the US. Both sides described the talks as “candid” and “productive” in their readouts, with the US Department of State saying that the exchange was part of ongoing efforts to restore “high-level diplomacy.” The Chinese
OPERATION BLACKSTONE: Belgian diplomats implied that it is worth releasing Iranians detained on terrorism charges to allow for innocent people to return home Three Europeans released from detention by Iran arrived in Belgium early yesterday, the latest in a series of prisoner swaps. One Dane and two Austrian-Iranian citizens landed shortly before 2:45am at Melsbroek Air Base just outside Brussels. They had flown from Muscat, the capital of Oman, which helped broker their release. Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs Hadja Lahbib welcomed them at the airport, along with Danish and Austrian diplomats. The trio’s release, as well as that of a Belgian aid worker a week earlier, were part of a prisoner swap in which Tehran got back an Iranian diplomat convicted and incarcerated in Belgium