KABUL, Afghanistan – A senior United Nations envoy met with the minister of higher education in the Taliban-led Afghan government on Saturday to discuss a ban on women attending universities. Marcus Potzel is the first international official he has met since the ban was imposed last month.

On December 20, the Taliban authorities ordered public and private universities to immediately close their doors to women until further notice. It drew widespread international condemnation, including from Muslim-majority countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.

Higher Education Minister Nida Mohamed Nadeem defended the ban, saying it was necessary to prevent mixing of the sexes in universities and because he believed some subjects were inconsistent with the principles of Islamic law.

This was followed up days later by a ban on Afghan women working in national and international non-governmental groups, another decision that caused worldwide condemnation and the suspension of major aid agencies.

The United Nations Mission in Afghanistan said that Potzel called for an urgent lifting of these bans in his meeting with Nadim, saying that the country was entering a new period of crisis. The mission said: “The Taliban’s ban on female education and work in aid agencies will harm all Afghans.”

Nadeem told Putzel that the ministry works for the development and improvement of Afghans, while protecting Islamic and patriotic values, according to information relayed by ministry spokesman Ziaullah Hashemi.

He said that opponents criticize the application of Islamic affairs, using education as an excuse to achieve their “evil goals”.

Nadim told Putzel at the meeting, “We need to make sure that there is no place for them to criticize, and at the same time fulfill the wishes of Afghans who made sacrifices for Islamic rule and the implementation of Sharia law in the country.” .

He also said that the rulers of Afghanistan will not accept anyone’s demands in the form of pressure against Islamic principles.

Potzel thanked Nadeem for his time, saying that higher education in any country has a direct impact on that country’s economic status, according to the ministry’s spokesperson.

The envoy promised to cooperate in developing higher education in Afghanistan and presented his plan for female education with Nadim.

Potzel also met with the Minister of Economy, Qariuddin Muhammad Hanif, who issued the ban on NGOs. Deputy Prime Minister Abdel Salam Hanafi. Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani and former President Hamid Karzai in recent days to discuss the crackdown on women and girls.

The discussions come ahead of a closed-door meeting of the UN Security Council on January 13 on Afghanistan.

The Taliban’s supreme leader appointed Nadim, a former provincial governor, police chief and military commander, as minister in October and previously vowed to eradicate secular education. He opposes female education, saying it goes against Islamic and Afghan values.

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