In its latest edict restricting women's rights and liberties, the Taliban's ministry of higher education has announced an indefinite ban on university study for Afghan women, sparking significant international condemnation.
While the United Nations Security Council was meeting in New York, the United States State Department announced the release of two Americans captured by the Taliban.
Since seizing control of the country a year ago, the Taliban have broadly imposed their strict interpretation of Islamic law, despite having first promised a more moderate regime that respected the rights of women and other groups.
They prohibited girls from attending middle and high school, limited women's employment opportunities, and mandated that they wear head-to-toe attire in public.
In addition, women were prohibited from entering parks and gyms and traveling without a male relative.
By a Cabinet decision, Afghan public and private universities were directed in a letter, confirmed by a representative for the ministry of higher education, to ban admission to female students immediately.
The prohibition on higher education comes weeks after Afghan girls across the country took university entrance tests despite being barred from grade 12 classrooms.
Some women were previously permitted to continue their university education, but only in gender-segregated classes.
"I am unable to realize my dreams and hopes. Everything is vanishing before my eyes, and I cannot stop it. "A journalism and communication student in his third year at Nangarhar University stated this. She wished to remain anonymous for fear of retribution.
"My father hoped I would one day become a good journalist. This has been destroyed. So, tell me, how will someone feel in this circumstance?"
Human Rights Watch described the move as "a disgraceful judgment," demonstrating the Taliban's disregard for "the fundamental rights of Afghans."
Foreign nations, particularly the United States, have stated that reform in women's education policies is required before the Taliban-led administration, which is also subject to severe sanctions, can be fully recognized.
"The Taliban cannot expect to be a legitimate member of the international community until they respect the rights of all Afghans, particularly the human rights and fundamental freedom of women and girls," US Deputy UN Ambassador Robert Wood told the council, calling the action "absolutely unjustifiable."
Barbara Woodward, Britain's UN Ambassador, described the suspension as "another appalling restriction of women's rights and a deep and terrible sadness for every female student."
At the time of publication, the Taliban had not responded to ABC's demands for comment.
Broken promises on women's education
In March, the Taliban were criticized by numerous foreign governments and other Afghans for reversing their position on the opening of all female high schools.
Tuesday's action, said to UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric, was "obviously another failed promise by the Taliban."
Roza Otunbayeva, the UN special envoy for Afghanistan, stated shortly before the announcement on universities that the closure of high schools had "undermined" the Taliban administration's relationship with the international community and was "extremely unpopular among Afghans and even within the Taliban leadership."
"As long as girls continue to be banned from school and the de facto authorities continue to overlook other expressed concerns of the international community, we remain in a stalemate," she said.
A university student's mother, who requested anonymity for security concerns, reported that her daughter called her in tears when she learned about the letter, worried that she could no longer continue her medical studies in Kabul.
"The pain in my heart and the hearts of (other) mothers cannot be articulated," she said.
"We are all feeling this pain."
Ned Price, a spokesperson for the US Department of State, told reporters that the US would consider what more measures it may take to hold the Taliban accountable.
This intolerable approach would have severe implications for the Taliban and further isolate them from the international community, he said.
The Taliban were deposed in 2001 by a US-led coalition for harboring al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and returned to power last year following America's messy withdrawal.
The Taliban assert that they protect women's rights through their view of Islamic law.
Taliban frees two American detainees.
Tuesday, the Taliban freed two Americans jailed in Afghanistan in what looks to be a "goodwill gesture," according to Mr. Price, who added that they would soon be reunited with their families.
Mr. Price stated at a daily press conference that Washington continued pressuring the Taliban to release any US citizens captured in Afghanistan. Still, he declined to specify who or how many were being held.
He told reporters that the release was not part of a more considerable prisoner exchange and that no money was exchanged.
"We are providing these two American citizens with everything necessary to help. They will soon be reunited with their loved ones, and we are ecstatic about this development, "Mr. Price added.
Three months had passed since the Taliban released Mark Frerichs, an American engineer, in exchange for Bashir Noorzai, a convicted drug smuggler held by the United States since 2005 and granted clemency by President Joe Biden.
Save the Children released a new report on Wednesday stating that Afghanistan is the worst country in the world for children, with an estimated 14 million children in need of aid.
According to the research, children suffer from poverty, malnutrition, "political indifference, and a lack of money for humanitarian interventions."
Chris Nyamandi, the country director for Save the Children in Afghanistan, stated that millions of children were at risk for severe malnutrition and life-threatening diseases.
"It's a humanitarian disaster of unprecedented proportions, and it's only going to get worse," he warned.
Families send their children to work or rely on bread alone to survive.
The United States does not formally recognize Afghanistan's ruling Taliban, who seized power from the government following the withdrawal of American soldiers in August 2021.
Despite sanctions imposed by the United Nations and its member nations, the UN Security Council authorized an exemption last year to permit the UN and relief organizations to interact with sanctioned Taliban officials to satisfy humanitarian needs.
Martin Griffiths, the head of UN relief, informed the Security Council that while this action had "helped preserve lives," it was insufficient.
Mr. Griffiths stated that 97% of Afghans live in poverty, that two-thirds of the population requires humanitarian aid to survive, that 20 million people experience acute hunger, and that 1.1 million adolescent girls are still prohibited from attending school.