Pakistan’s Envoy to United Nations Munir Akram received flak for controversial statements on Pashtun culture and education for women.
Ambassador Akram drew flak for his controversial statement of equating the Taliban ban on women’s education to Pashtun culture in a briefing in New York on Wednesday. A small video clip of Akram’s speech went viral on social media. The statements triggered a backlash from the Pashtun community on both sides of the border in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
“The restrictions that have been put by the Afghan interim government, flow not so much from a religious perspective as from a peculiar cultural perspective of the Pashtun culture, which requires women to be kept at home,” he said at the UN briefing. “And this is a peculiar, distinctive cultural reality of Afghanistan which has not changed for hundreds of years.”
Social media users accused him of condoning the inhumane behavior of the Taliban government in Afghanistan.
Extremely embarrassing representation by @PakistanPR_UN. Ban on education of girls is not Pashtun culture, it’s Taliban culture that Pashtuns have fought against for decades.
Is this terrible racism state policy @ForeignOfficePk @BBhuttoZardari @HinaRKhar? pic.twitter.com/03bORVgid0
— Usama Khilji (@UsamaKhilji) February 2, 2023
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“Extremely embarrassing representation by @PakistanPR_UN. Ban on the education of girls is not Pashtun culture, it’s Taliban culture that Pashtuns have fought against for decades. Is this terrible racism state policy,” said an extremely disappointed activist Usama Khilji.
Former Senator Afrasayab Khattak called these statements an insult to the Pashtun culture and asked if “Pakistan represents the Taliban now”.
The great grandmothers, grandmothers, aunts, mothers and cousins of my very conservative Pashtun family, belonging and residing in a very conservative village in Bannu,would disagree with the ambassador's 'esteemed' opinion.Every one educated and even working,if need be in purdah https://t.co/NCYBljmuF9
— Zunaira Inam Khan (@ZunairaInam) February 2, 2023
Here is Munir Akram.
He is turning 78 in February.
He thinks Pakhtun culture requires a ban on female education.
(The only female Pakistani Nobel prize winner is a Pakhtun woman. She won it for her work in education) pic.twitter.com/gAlXZFj8df
— Mosharraf Zaidi (@mosharrafzaidi) February 2, 2023
Dignitaries from the other side of the border also called these statements shameful.
Ashraf Haidari, the Afghan ambassador to Sri Lanka, alleged that Ambassador Akram “deliberately avoids blaming the extremist ideology of the Taliban for the gender apartheid in Afghanistan, which the TTP [Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan] now desires to enforce in Pakistan too as soon as they can”.
Later, in an interview with Dawn Newspaper, Amb Munir Akram explained his statements and apologized if they hurt the sentiments of a certain community. He said he was referring to the peculiar perspective of a small minority — which has resulted in the restrictions on women”.
The spokesperson of the Foreign Ministry says that the office has sought the details of the statements of Munir Akram concerning Pashtun culture and the context in which they were said.
“Pakistan is a country that accords equal status to women. It also respects its commitments under international agreements and conventions,” the spokesperson said. “We believe that Islam grants equal access to education and women’s rights and … we have also said that the enterprising and innovative Afghan women should not be deprived of their rights to progress and to follow their dreams.”