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Thousands gather for an all-male gathering to approve Taliban rule

#Thousands #gather #allmale #gathering #approve #Taliban #rule

Thousands of Afghan religious scholars and tribal elders gathered in the capital on Thursday for a men-only meeting where the Taliban hope they will approve their strict Islamic rule.

Officials have revealed scant details about the ‘jirga’ – a traditional gathering of influential people to settle disagreements amicably – and the media are also banned from attending.

It comes a week after a powerful earthquake struck the east of the country, killing over 1,000 people and leaving tens of thousands homeless.

Even before the quake, the Taliban were struggling to govern a country long in economic malaise and entirely dependent on foreign aid, which dried up with the ouster of the Western-backed government in August.

Officials from the United States were later on Thursday to meet senior Taliban leaders in Qatar to discuss releasing some Afghan reserves, with Washington looking at ways to ensure the money goes to the people rather than the Islamist group.

A Taliban source told AFP this week that the three-day jirga would allow criticism of the regime and discuss sensitive issues such as girls’ education – who are divided in the movement.

But women were not allowed to attend, and Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Salam Hanafi told state broadcaster RTA on Wednesday that it was not required as they were represented by male relatives.

“The women are our mothers and sisters … we respect them very much,” he said.

“If their sons are at the meeting, that means they’re involved too.”

– girls excluded from school –

Since the Taliban returned, secondary school girls have been barred from education, while women have been fired from government jobs, banned from traveling alone and ordered to wear clothing that covers everything but their face.

They have also banned the playing of non-religious music, banned the depiction of human figures in advertisements, ordered television stations not to show films and soap operas featuring uncovered women, and told men to dress in traditional clothing and grow beards.

A letter from the prime minister’s office seen by AFP said each of Afghanistan’s more than 400 districts should nominate three delegates for the meeting.

Cities, religious groups and other organizations would also send representatives, bringing the assembly to over 3,000 – the largest collective leadership since the Taliban returned to power.

Afghan media has been rife with speculation that Taliban supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada, who has not been publicly filmed or photographed since the group returned to power, could attend the gathering.

Only a handful of unconfirmed audio recordings of his speeches have been released since August from Kandahar, the birthplace and spiritual heart of the Taliban.

The Taliban have thrown a tight security blanket over the capital, roads leading to the jirga venue blocked or full of checkpoints.

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