Taliban Vow No Haven for Terrorists, Breaking With Own Past
(Bloomberg) -- The Taliban pledged to build an inclusive government, protect the rights of women “within the bounds of Shariah law,” and prevent Afghan territory from being used to target any other country, seeking to allay concerns the group intends to reimpose Islamic fundamentalism on Afghanistan.
The rhetoric from the militant group on Tuesday fits a pattern of reassuring comments since the Taliban seized the capital of Kabul on Sunday. But history argues against it: Their prior stint in power, until they were ousted by the U.S. military in 2001, was marked by an extremely conservative interpretation of Shariah laws that saw women face stoning or execution for non-compliance.
“We assure the international community and especially the U.S. and neighboring countries that Afghanistan won’t be used against them,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed said in Kabul, his first fully public appearance after 20 years spreading the Sunni fundamentalist movement’s message from secret locations as it fought NATO and Afghan forces.
The sudden pragmatism likely reflects the realization within Taliban ranks that officials need to present a more moderate image if they hope to gain tacit recognition from the U.S. and its allies as the new rulers of Afghanistan. Alongside rolling back the advances in freedoms enjoyed by some women, a key concern is the Taliban will let terrorist groups like al-Qaeda rebuild a base in the country.
Already there are doubts the Taliban charm offensive will be sustained, especially in rural parts of the country. Militants in northern areas have in recent weeks told some female employees of Afghanistan International Bank, the country’s largest by assets, to leave and go home, a bank official said.
Reports have also emerged of forced marriages and orders for men to grow beards. Thousands of residents have fled to neighboring countries in an attempt to escape life under the insurgents.
“After consultations we will witness the formation of a strong inclusive Islamic government,” Mujahed said, dodging questions of who would lead the country. He added that a Taliban-run Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan wouldn’t seek retribution against those who worked with the U.S. and the ousted administration or fought the movement.
“All of them have been pardoned,” he said during a more than hour-long press conference, dressed in the Taliban’s usual black turban. Mujahed said the group’s fighters would collect weapons in a country awash with guns, and crack down on opium production.
He sat in front of a cluster of microphones, and a hand sanitizer bottle, with the white Taliban flag and blue velvet curtains behind him. A translator sat to his left, often leaning in to translate questions from the foreign press or to relay his answers. It was the first time that people had seen Mujahed with his face uncovered.
Earlier Tuesday, Taliban representatives, Afghan officials and leaders in Qatar -- where the two sides held now-stalled peace talks -- were thought to have begun discussions in an effort to formalize the transition of power.
Details of the meetings were sketchy and later a senior Taliban delegation led by deputy chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, tipped by some observers to be Afghanistan’s next leader, flew from the Qatari capital of Doha to Kandahar, the southern Afghan city that was the austere movement’s stronghold when it previously ruled over the country.
Kabul was reported to be largely calm. U.S. forces restored security at the capital’s Hamid Karzai International Airport, where some military evacuation flights resumed as nations withdraw their personnel.
Al Jazeera said the airport would reopen to civilians on Saturday, citing an unidentified security official. German defense officials said for now the militant group had sealed off the facility and was only letting through members of the international community.
In its five-year rule from 1996 until 2001, women were banned from working outside their homes and attending schools or colleges, required to have a male escort if they went out in public, and were expected to wear a burqa -- a garment that covers the full face and body. Schools for girls were closed and women were rarely permitted to leave the house. The group also banned nearly all forms of entertainment, from music and television to sports and kite-flying.
Earlier Tuesday another Taliban official, who asked not to be identified due to the group’s rules for speaking to the media, said that now women would be allowed to work “where they so choose” in government, the private sector, trade and elsewhere, as long as they abide by Islamic regulations.
The Taliban had also made previous promises of security and an “amnesty” for all government officials and employees since its fighters entered Kabul.
The desperate search for a way out of Afghanistan by the crowds that surged into Kabul’s airport Monday, with some clinging to departing aircraft, showed many will take a lot of convincing.
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