The Taliban’s dismal failure on female education proves who is really in charge of Afghanistan, says Matthieu Aikins on The Daily podcast. Girls were supposed to return to secondary schools on 23 March, with a lavish ceremony in Kabul celebrating the occasion. But that very morning, officials suddenly changed their minds. Teenage girls were thrown out of classrooms and told they were permanently banned. The last-minute U-turn damaged the government’s standing not only in the eyes of liberal Westerners but “within their own society”. When I asked a senior Kabul official about the decision, he called it a “complete mistake”. Taliban members in the capital want their daughters to go to school.
But it isn’t up to them. The real power in Afghanistan lies 300 miles away in the city of Kandahar, with supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada and his council of “hardline clerics”. Bureaucrats in Kabul manage day-to-day matters, but the important decisions fall to this group of traditionalists. They want city life to ape village life, where “women don’t leave the house” – and they couldn’t care less about international outcry. The council knows Western leaders can’t let Afghanistan collapse and risk refugees flooding into Europe, or an even more radical insurgency sweeping to power. “They’re willing to call the West’s bluff.” Modernisers in Kabul might kid themselves otherwise, but their power is nothing compared to this “shadow government”.