ISLAMABAD — Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban issued on Sunday new travel restrictions for the country’s women, an action criticized by the U.S. as further mistreatment of Afghan women by the terror group.
The Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice directive limits a woman’s ability to travel farther than 72 kilometers unless accompanied by a close male relative. It also advised taxi drivers to offer rides only to women wearing an Islamic hijab or a headscarf.
Ministry spokesman Sadiq Akif Mahajer defended the restrictions, telling VOA they were in line with Sharia, or Islamic law.
The decree also requires drivers of the male-only transport sector in Afghanistan to grow beards, break for prayers and refrain from playing music in their vehicles.
The latest restrictions come weeks after the Taliban asked Afghan television channels to stop showing dramas and soap operas featuring actresses, to require female news anchors to wear hijabs while on the air.
The Taliban militarily regained power in August as the Western-backed government in Kabul and Afghan security forces collapsed in the final stages of the military withdrawal by the U.S.-led international forces from the country.
The global community, however, has not recognized the Taliban government and refused to directly engage with the hardline group over human rights, especially those of women, and terrorism concerns.
“One of our big issues in terms of any conversations with the Taliban is exactly this point, which is the condition, the status and the treatment of women and girls, including for girls, access to education,” U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris told CBS News in an interview the broadcaster aired on Sunday.
“I worry that the Taliban has not complied with what we know to be the appropriate treatment and the right treatment of girls and women. That is one of our greatest considerations and concerns,” Harris said.
The Taliban have prevented most Afghan women from returning to work and schoolgirls from resuming classes across many provinces, despite pledging a more moderate rule compared with their harsh regime from 1996 to 2001.
At the time, women had been barred from leaving home without a male chaperone, forced to wear a veil covering them from head to toe and banned from work as well as education. The then-Taliban Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice had been accused of serious human rights abuses, leading to Afghanistan’s isolation from the world.
The United States and other Western countries, as well as financial institutions, have suspended billions of dollars in financial aid to Afghanistan since the Taliban returned to power in mid-August.
The suspension of aid and sanctions have plunged the economy into a crisis, increasing humanitarian needs in Afghanistan where the United Nations estimates 23 million people face hunger due to years of war, drought and poverty.
The Taliban have been urging Washington to unfreeze roughly $9.4 billion in Afghanistan’s central bank assets and remove financial restrictions, maintaining that their new government is representative of all Afghans and working to respect human rights of all the citizens in line with Islamic laws.