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'Amnesty' For All, Women in Govt: Is Taliban 2.0 a Milder Version of Their Hardline Brand?

By: News Desk

News18.com

Last Updated: August 17, 2021, 18:38 IST

Mumbai

A woman holds a placard as Afghan migrants demonstrate against the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, on the island of Lesbos, Greece. (REUTERS)

A woman holds a placard as Afghan migrants demonstrate against the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, on the island of Lesbos, Greece. (REUTERS)

The Taliban appear to be seeking to portray themselves as more moderate than when they imposed a brutal rule in Afghanistan the late 1990s.

Facing global condemnation for their militant blitz to power in Afghanistan after a bloody nationwide battle, the Taliban on Tuesday declared an “amnesty” across Afghanistan and urged women to join their government, seeking to convince a wary population that they have changed a day after deadly chaos gripped the main airport as desperate crowds tried to flee their rule.

As heart-wrenching visuals of desperate Afghans feeling the devastated country in a bid to escape the Taliban rule grabbed international headlines, the hardline group appeared to be seeking to portray themselves as more moderate than when they imposed a brutal rule in the late 1990s. But many Afghans remain skeptical. FOLLOW LIVE UPDATES

Older generations remember the Taliban’s ultra-conservative Islamic views, which included severe restrictions on women as well as stonings, amputations, and public executions before they were ousted by the US-led invasion that followed the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.

While there were no major reports of abuses or fighting in the capital of Kabul as the Taliban now patrol its streets, many residents have stayed home and remain fearful after the insurgents’ takeover saw prisons emptied and armories looted. Many women have expressed dread that the two-decade Western experiment to expand their rights and remake Afghanistan would not survive the resurgent Taliban.

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Promises and pledges

The promises of amnesty from Enamullah Samangani, a member of the Taliban’s cultural commission, were the first comments on how the Taliban might govern on a national level. His remarks remained vague, however, as the Taliban are still negotiating with political leaders of the country’s fallen government and no formal handover deal has been announced.

“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan with full dignity and honesty has announced a complete amnesty for all Afghanistan, especially those who were with the opposition or supported the occupiers for years and recently,” he said.

Other Taliban leaders have said they won’t seek revenge on those who worked with the Afghan government or foreign countries. But some in Kabul allege Taliban fighters have lists of people who cooperated with the government and are seeking them out.

Samangani also described women as “the main victims of the more than 40 years of crisis in Afghanistan.”

“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan doesn’t want the women to be the victims anymore,” he said. “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is ready to provide women with the environment to work and study, and the presence of women in different (government) structures according to Islamic law and in accordance with our cultural values.”

That would be a marked departure from the last time the Taliban were in power, when women were largely confined to their homes. Samangani didn’t describe exactly what he meant by Islamic law, implying people already knew the rules. He added that “all sides should join” a government.

The Taliban’s promises can be summed up in the following points:

  • The Islamic Emirate (Taliban designated Afghanistan) has assured all its citizens that it will protect their life, property and honour and create a peaceful and secure environment.
  • All those who have previously worked and helped the Western troops, or held ranks in the previous Kabul administration will be given amnesty.
  • The Taliban says it is not interested in anyone’s private property, cars, land, houses, markets and shops). It says it considers the protection of lives and properties of the nation its primary responsibility.
  • People should lead a normal life, especially in the official arena, whether it is educational, healthy, social or cultural, they said.
  • They have also assured all the diplomats, embassies, consulates, and charitable workers, whether international or national, that not only no problems will be created for them by the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan security, a secure environment will be provided to them.
    Lastly, on women, the Taliban say they will respect the rights of women. “Our policy is that women will have access to education and work, and to wear the hijab.”

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UN calls for scrutiny

The United Nations is urging the Taliban to keep its promises. The Taliban have made a number of statements that on the surface are reassuring, UN human rights office spokesman Rupert Colville told reporters Tuesday in Geneva. But their actions speak deeper than words, and it’s very early now it’s very fluid. He said the Taliban’s promises “need to be honoured”.

Understandably, given their past history, these declarations have been greeted with some scepticism, Colville added. Nevertheless, the promises have been made, and whether or not they are honoured or broken will be closely scrutinised. Colville alluded to comments a day earlier from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres about chilling reports of human rights abuses and restrictions on rights especially those of women and girls in areas captured by the Taliban in recent weeks.

He also called on UN member states to use their influence with the Taliban to protect civilian lives.

The UNICEF, which is still delivering aid to most parts of Afghanistan, said it is quite hopeful as Taliban representatives in some parts of Afghanistan have also expressed support for educating girls.

UNICEF cited some Taliban local representatives as saying they were waiting for guidance from their leaders on the issue of educating girls, while others have said they want schools “up and running”.

World responds

Germany suspended development aid to Afghanistan, estimated at 250 million euros ($294 million) for 2021. The German news agency DPA described Afghanistan as the nation that received the most development aid from Berlin. Other funding separately goes to security services and humanitarian aid.

Swedish Development Aid Minister Per Olsson Fridh, meanwhile, said his government would slow down aid to the country in an interview with the Dagens Nyheter newspaper. But Britain committed to an increase.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said humanitarian aid could rise by 10%. He said the aid budget would be reconfigured for development and humanitarian purposes and that the Taliban would not get any money previously earmarked for security — but he said aid would not be conditioned on how the Taliban govern.

Fight or flight

Meanwhile, Kabul’s international airport, the only way out for many, reopened to military evacuation flights under the watch of American troops.

All flights were suspended on Monday when thousands of people rushed the airport, desperate to leave the country. 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 chaos at the airport, U.S. officials said.

The German Foreign Ministry said a first German military transport plane landed in Kabul, but it could only take seven people on board before it had to depart again due to continued chaos.

Across Afghanistan, the International Committee of the Red Cross said thousands had been wounded in fighting as the Taliban swept across the country in recent days. However, in many places, security forces and politicians handed over their provinces and bases without a fight, likely fearing what would happen when the last American troops withdrew as planned at the end of the month.

Biden digs in

A resolute U.S. President Joe Biden on Monday said he stood “squarely behind” his decision to withdraw American forces and acknowledged the “gut-wrenching” images unfolding in Kabul. Biden said he faced a choice between honouring a previously negotiated withdrawal agreement or sending thousands of more troops back to begin the third decade of war.

“After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces,” Biden said in a televised address from the White House.

Talks continued Tuesday between the Taliban and several Afghan government officials, including former President Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, who once headed the country’s negotiating council. Discussions focused on how a Taliban-dominated government would operate given the changes in Afghanistan over the last 20 years, rather than just dividing up who controlled what ministries, officials with knowledge of the negotiations said. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential details of the talks.

Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani earlier fled the country amid the Taliban advance and his whereabouts remain unknown.

(With agency inputs)

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first published:August 17, 2021, 17:39 IST
last updated:August 17, 2021, 18:38 IST