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Pak UN envoy under fire from Pakhtun, human rights activists

Islamabad, Feb 3 (IANS) A day after Pakistans UN Ambassador Munir Akram drew flak from Pakhtuns and human rights activists in both Afghanistan and Pakistan for equating the Taliban governments restrictions on women with the Pakhtun culture, he clarified that he was referring to the “peculiar perspective” of a small minority when he spoke about the practice of keeping Pakhtun women at home.

Akram made the controversial remarks during a briefing at the UN in New York on Wednesday, Dawn reported.

“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 briefing.

“And this is a peculiar, distinctive cultural reality of Afghanistan which has not changed for hundreds of years.”

Former senator Afrasiab Khattak called these remarks an insult to Pakhtuns and asked Ambassador Akram “if Pakistan represents the Taliban now”, Dawn reported.

Shah Mahmood Miakhel, Deputy Defence Minister in the former Afghan government, said Akram was “playing an ethnic card”, which was “shameful”.

Ashraf Haidari, the Afghan Ambassador to Sri Lanka, alleged thatAkram “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”.

Responding to queries from Dawn, Akram said he “regrets if his remarks (were) misunderstood or hurt anyone’s feelings. There was no disrespect meant to Pashtun culture which is highly progressive and deserves full respect across the world”.

He said he was referring to the “peculiar perspective of a small minority which has resulted in the restrictions on women”.

In Islamabad, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told reporters that Pakistan had sought details of the Ambassador’s statement and the context in which it might have been made, Dawn reported.