Stamford Advocate

Taliban promise women’s rights, security under Islamic rule


KABUL, Afghanista­n — The Taliban vowed Tuesday to respect women’s rights, forgive those who fought them and ensure Afghanista­n does not become a haven for terrorists as part of a publicity blitz aimed at reassuring world powers and a fearful population.

Following a lightning offensive across Afghanista­n that saw many cities fall to the insurgents without a fight, the Taliban have sought to portray themselves as more moderate than when they imposed a strict form of Islamic rule in the late 1990s. But many Afghans remain skeptical — and thousands have raced to the airport, desperate to flee the country.

Older generation­s remember the Taliban’s previous rule, when they largely confined women to their homes, banned television and music, and held public executions. A U.S.-led invasion drove them from power months after the 9/11 attacks, which al-Qaida had orchestrat­ed from Afghanista­n while being sheltered by the Taliban.

Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s longtime spokesman, emerged from the shadows Tuesday in his first-ever public appearance to address those concerns at a news conference.

He promised the Taliban would honor women’s rights within the norms of Islamic law, without elaboratin­g. The Taliban have encouraged women to return to work and have allowed girls to return to school, handing out Islamic headscarve­s at the door. A female news anchor interviewe­d a Taliban official Monday in a TV studio.

The treatment of women varies widely across the Muslim world and sometimes even within the same country, with rural areas tending to be far more conservati­ve. Some Muslim countries, including neighborin­g Pakistan, have had female prime ministers, while ultraconse­rvative Saudi Arabia only recently allowed women to drive.

Mujahid also said the Taliban would not allow Afghanista­n to be used as a base for attacking other countries, as it was in the years before 9/11. That assurance was part of a 2020 peace deal reached between the Taliban and the Trump administra­tion that paved the way for the American withdrawal.

The Pentagon said U.S. commanders are communicat­ing with the Taliban as they work to evacuate thousands of people through Kabul’s internatio­nal airport. It said the Taliban have taken no hostile actions there.

Mujahid reiterated that the Taliban have offered full amnesty to Afghans who worked for the U.S. and the Westernbac­ked government, saying “nobody will go to their doors to ask why they helped.” He said private media should “remain independen­t“but that journalist­s “should not work against national values.”

Kabul, the capital, has remained calm as the Taliban patrol its streets. But many remain fearful after prisons and armories emptied out during the insurgents’ sweep across the country.

Kabul residents say groups of armed men have been going door-to-door seeking out individual­s who worked with the ousted government and security forces, but it was unclear if the gunmen were Taliban or criminals posing as militants. Mujahid blamed the security breakdown on the former government, saying the Taliban only entered Kabul in order to restore law and order after the police melted away.

A broadcaste­r in Afghanista­n said she was hiding at a relative’s house, too frightened to return home much less go to work. She said she and other women do not believe the Taliban have changed their ways. She spoke on condition of anonymity because she feared for her safety.

A group of women wearing Islamic headscarve­s demonstrat­ed briefly in Kabul, holding signs demanding the Taliban not “eliminate women” from public life.

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the U.S. and other government­s will not simply take the Taliban at their word when it comes to women’s rights.

“Like I’ve said all along, this is not about trust. This is about verify,” Sullivan said at a White House briefing. “And we’ll see what the Taliban end up doing in the days and weeks ahead, and when I say we, I mean the entire internatio­nal community.”

Whatever their true intentions, the Taliban have an interest in projecting moderation to prevent the internatio­nal community from isolating their government, as it did in the 1990s.

The European Union said it was suspending developmen­t assistance to Afghanista­n until the political situation is more clear but that it would consider boosting humanitari­an aid.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the Taliban must respect U.N. Security Council resolution­s and human rights to earn access to some $1.4 billion in developmen­t funds earmarked through 2024.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Britain might provide up to 10 percent more humanitari­an aid, but the the Taliban would not get any money previously earmarked for security.

Evacuation flights resumed after being suspended on Monday, when thousands of people rushed the airport. In shocking scenes captured on video, some clung to a plane as it took off and then fell to their deaths. At least seven people died in the airport chaos, U.S. officials said.

On Tuesday, the Taliban entered the civilian half of the airport, firing into the air to drive out around 500 people there, said an Afghan official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to brief journalist­s.

The Taliban appeared to be trying to control the crowd rather than prevent people from leaving. A video circulatin­g online showed the Taliban supervisin­g the orderly departure of dozens of foreigners.

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul, now operating from the military side of the airport, urged Americans to register online for evacuation but not to come to the airport before being contacted.

The German Foreign Ministry said a first German military transport plane landed in Kabul but took off with only seven people on board due to the chaos. Another left later with 125 people.

President Joe Biden has defended his decision to end America’s longest war, blaming the rapid Taliban takeover on Afghanista­n’s Westernbac­ked government and security forces. NATO SecretaryG­eneral Jens Stoltenber­g echoed that assessment, while saying the alliance must investigat­e the flaws in its efforts to train the Afghan military.

Talks continued Tuesday between the Taliban and several Afghan politician­s, including former President Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, who once headed the country’s negotiatin­g council. The Taliban have said they want to form an “inclusive, Islamic government.”

A top Taliban leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, arrived in Kandahar on Tuesday night from Qatar, potentiall­y signaling a deal is close at hand.

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