The Taliban's ban on girls in Afghanistan studying beyond primary school is "a small issue" and should not prevent the international community from recognizing it as the country's legitimate government, a spokesman said in a recent interview.

Zabihullah Mujahid told Kyodo News in Kandahar, southern Afghanistan, that female education is "an internal matter" and that it is difficult at the moment to convince conservatives and moderates to "be at one table" on the issue.

The Taliban has suspended secondary and higher education for girls and prohibited female employees of national and international organizations operating in Afghanistan from working, a move that has provoked strong condemnation from Western countries.

The Taliban, which returned to power in August 2021, are not recognized by the international community as the legitimate government, due in part to concerns over the rights of women and girls.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid speaks during an interview in Kabul on Nov. 20, 2021. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

Mujahid described criticism of the restrictions on women's education as a "propaganda tool by Western countries to isolate us."

"If we reopen girls' schools (now), people would think that we came under pressure from the United States and the international community," he said, adding, "We do not want that."

But while it is not a current priority, the spokesman said it is possible to resume secondary and higher education for girls and women within several years.

After the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan, U.N. rights chief Michelle Bachelet said its treatment of women and girls would be a "fundamental red line" that should not be crossed.

But Mujahid insisted resuming education for women should not be a condition for recognizing the Taliban as the legitimate government.

"If we are recognized, we will be able to pursue this issue even better and more easily," he said, adding the country will need help from Japan in transportation and buildings once it is ready to reopen girls' schools.

The Japanese government has said it will continue to work with the international community to urge the Taliban to reverse its policy toward women and girls, while continuing efforts to ensure peace and stability in Afghanistan.

Earlier this year, Taliban leader Hibatullah Akhundzada, a hard-line religious scholar, and ministers discussed the issue of resuming education for girls and women but they failed to reach an agreement due to opposition from hard-liners.