A province in Pakistan that was once a Taliban stronghold has placed restrictions on gender integration in educational institutions and banned males from working with female students.

On Sunday, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province’s chief minister Mahmood Khan enforced an Islamic ethos by banning males from entering female educational institutions across the province. He also restricted all male guests and banned media coverage at events at girls’ schools.

Ziauddin Yousafzai, the father of Nobel laurate Malala Yousafzai, tweeted: “Dear PM @ImranKhanPTI, Is this the “Change” and “Naya {new} Pakistan” you promised us? Institutionalization of Talibanization?! “No male minister, MNAs, MPAs & officers shall be invited to the girls’ schools as Chief Guests. Entry … strictly banned”

Liberals, academics and moderates criticized the bans, saying the move was politically motivated to appease religious forces amid the fast depleting popularity of the government.

“Religion is a tool that Pakistani politicians use frequently to further their ambitions and just as often to cover up for their financial or other crimes. The out-of-the-blue announcement by KP’s chief minister banning males from entering all-girls’ schools is certainly despicable and stupid,” Pervez Hoodbhoy, a Pakistani nuclear physicist, activist, columnist and a distinguished professor at the Forman Christian College and the Quaid-e-Azam University told Asia Times.

He said it left one wondering what had motivated the chief minister.

“Is the man just a run-of-the-mill fanatic who thinks women should never be seen or heard or is his newfound holiness connected with his dubious past?” he asked. He recalled that in 2014 the Peshawar High Court had removed him from the position of provincial minister on charges of embezzlement and corruption.

“Unfortunately crookedness and professed piety are known to get along famously well in Islamic Pakistan,” he added.

Chief Minister Mahmood Khan, while banning gender integration in girls’ schools, also directed the education department to discourage the publicity of social, literary, sports and annual day activities of female students on social and mainstream media.

By doing so, he claimed, girls would get an education “in the true spirit of social, culture and Islamic values” in the province. The advisor to the chief minister, Zia Ullah Khan Bangash, who passed on the chief executive’s instructions, was not available for comment despite Asia Times’ repeated attempts.

“The founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, had no qualms in involving his sister Fathma Jinnah in the political struggle for Pakistan in 1947 and his party men used to honor her as a colleague without gender discrimination,” Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) senator Pervaiz Rasheed told Asia Times.

He said Jinnah’s ideology and vision needed to be followed. Jinnah, he pointed out, always stood for gender, racial, sectarian and linguistic integration.

“Every citizen irrespective of his or her sexual categorization has equal rights and obligations. The constitution does not allow discrimination because of sex, creed, sect, color, language and race,” the veteran politician said.

PTI chairperson Imran Khan, who is known to be soft on the Taliban, demanded reproachment with the Islamist group and called for the provision of offices in Pakistan for their leadership. Khan’s opponents, including the leader of the right-wing nationalist Awami National Party (ANP), called him “Taliban Khan.”

The spokesperson for the ANP, Zahid Khan, when contacted by Asia Times asked what else could be expected from a man who was an ardent supporter of the Taliban.

A senior government official, who asked not be identified, said the ban on the entry of males at girls’ schools was initially enforced at the primary and middle level. It will be extended to the higher level once the order is fully implemented and the system is purged of “un-Islamic tenets.”

The chief minister, he said, instructed the province’s education department that “the schools should invite female dignitaries as chief guests in the sports and other functions.”

Unlike the general perception in educated and liberal circles, which do not see eye to eye with the provincial government on the gender discrimination issue, the lower middle class, whose children study in government schools, are quite content with the order.

“It’s a very good decision and hopefully our girls would be feeling more secure and happy now,” said Muhammad Aslam, who runs a grocery shop in the Tehkal area of Peshawar. Two of his daughters were studying at a local girls’ primary school.

Firdous Khan works in a shop on the main road in Peshawar city and has two daughters going to school. He said the ban would benefit the school-going girls as they would get more freedom to participate in the functions and sports events.

“One should realize that CM instructions would help preserve the KP-specific cultural and religious values,” he said.