ISLAMABAD (AP) — Taliban authorities Saturday shut down girls schools above the sixth grade in eastern Afghanistan's Paktia province, according to witnesses and social media posts. The schools had briefly opened after a recommendation by tribal elders and school principals.
Earlier this month, four girls schools above grade 6 in Gardez, the provincial capital, and one in the Samkani district began operating without formal permission from the Taliban Education Ministry.
On Saturday, all five schools were once again closed by the Taliban.
Dozens of tearful former students — some in head-to-toe burqas, others in school uniforms and white vails - protested Saturday in the streets of Gardez, according to social media posts.
Mohammad Sediq, a resident of Gardez, said he had been happy that his two sisters could go to school, but the Taliban disappointed him by closing the girls schools.
Taliban government spokespersons and Education Ministry officials were not immediately available for comment.
A year after the Taliban took power in Afghanistan, teenage girls are still barred from school and women are required to cover themselves from head to toe in public, with only their eyes showing. Hard-liners appear to hold sway in the Taliban-led government, which imposed severe restrictions on access to education and jobs for girls and women, despite initial promises to the contrary.
Former president Hamid Karzai in a series of tweets on World Literacy Day on Thursday, encouraged respected clerics, elders and influential Afghans to "encourage the education of our children, both boys and girls, as much as possible,”
Last week, Khaliqyar Ahmadzai, head of information and culture in Paktia, told local media that schools for female students above grade 6 had been reopened in the province.
“The decision was made by local school leadership and not based on an official order,” he said.
Since taking power, the Taliban have struggled to govern and remain internationally isolated. An economic downturn has driven millions more Afghans into poverty and hunger as the flow of foreign aid has slowed to a trickle.