Taliban strike conciliatory tone after Afghanistan takeover

Published : August 19, 2021 12:41 IST

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid had been a shadowy figure for years. Photo: AP

In their first press conference since they seized control of Afghanistan, the insurgents promised amnesty and vowed to honor women's rights within "the limits of Islam."

The Islamist Taliban on August 17 sought to portray themselves as more moderate as they spoke to the press for the first time since the collapse of Afghanistan's government.

The insurgent group returned to power on Sunday after a two-decade war. Under their rule in the late 1990s, the Taliban imposed their ultraconservative Islamic views. Thousands of Afghans raced to the Kabul airport on Monday, desperate to flee hard-line Taliban rule.

What did the Taliban say? 

In comments to the press, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid promised Afghans a general amnesty, saying there would be no retribution, even for those who worked with Western forces. 

"We assure you that nobody will go to their doors to ask why they helped," he said. Mujahid vowed to respect women's rights. "We are committed to letting women work in accordance with the principles of Islam," he said.

Taliban hold press conference in Kabul

Suhail Shaheen, another spokesperson for the Taliban said they would not make the full burqa —  a one-piece overgarment that covers the entire head and body — compulsory for women as they had done when they last ruled Afghanistan.

"The burqa is not the only hijab [headscarf] that [can] be observed: There is different types of hijab not limited to burqa," Shaheen told British broadcaster Sky News. Women "can get education from primary to higher education — that means university. We have announced this policy at international conferences, the Moscow conference and here at the Doha conference [on Afghanistan]," Shaheen said.

Mujahid also said the Taliban wanted private media to "remain independent," but stressed that journalists "should not work against national values."

What has been the international response?

E.U. foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc would only cooperate with the government in Afghanistan if it respected human rights, fought corruption and prevented "the use of Afghanistan's territory by terrorist organizations." 

The E.U. will continue to provide aid to the Afghan people, Borrell said. The United Nations is waiting to see how the Taliban's pledges come into action. "We will need to see what actually happens, and I think we will need to see acts on the ground in terms of promises kept," U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the West's judgment on the Taliban would depend "on their actions." "What's important is that this transition phase will be peaceful and that will depend on what the transition government actually does as soon as it's in place, in terms of whether we can believe their statements," Maas told reporters after talks with his E.U. counterparts.

How was the Taliban's previous rule? 

From 1996 to 2001, the Taliban government imposed the strictest interpretations of Shariah and established religious police to suppress "vice." Courts handed out extreme sentences, including chopping off the hands of thieves and stoning to death women accused of adultery.

Girls' schools were closed, and women were prevented from traveling and working. The Taliban had also forced women to wear an all-covering burqa in public.

fb/rs (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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