Afghans fear a return to brutal Taliban regime

There are indications of going back to the harsh version of Islamic rule the people lived under from 1996 to 2001

August 15, 2021 10:39 pm | Updated August 16, 2021 12:57 pm IST - Istanbul

Warning signs:  Taliban fighters sitting over a vehicle on a street in Laghman province on Sunday.

Warning signs: Taliban fighters sitting over a vehicle on a street in Laghman province on Sunday.

As the Taliban mass at the gates of Kabul, they are promising a new era of peace in Afghanistan, with amnesty for those they have been battling for two decades and a return to normal life.

But Afghans who remember the Taliban’s brutal rule and those who have lived in areas controlled by the Islamic militants in recent years have watched with growing fear as the insurgents have overrun most of the country while international forces withdraw.

In a stunning rout, the Taliban seized nearly all of Afghanistan in just over a week, despite the billions of dollars spent by the U.S. and NATO over nearly two decades to build up Afghan security forces.

On Sunday, the insurgents entered the outskirts of Kabul but initially remained outside of the city’s downtown. Meanwhile, Taliban negotiators in the capital discussed the transfer of power, said an Afghan official who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. The officialdescribed the discussions as “tense.”

Also Read:Taliban await 'peaceful transfer' of power

The fall of Kabul marks the final chapter of America’s longest war, which began after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks masterminded by al-Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden, then harboured by the Taliban government. A U.S.-led invasion dislodged the Taliban.

The negotiators on the government side included former President Hamid Karzai, leader of Hizb-e-Islami political and paramilitary group Gulbudin Hekmatyar and the head of the Afghan National Reconciliation Council Abdullah Abdullah, who has been a critic of President Ashraf Ghani, who has reportedly fled the country.

Mr. Karzai himself appeared in a video posted online, his three young daughters around him, saying he remained in Kabul.

“We are trying to solve the issue of Afghanistan with the Taliban leadership peacefully,” he said.

‘They sold the country’

Afghanistan’s acting Defence Minister, Bismillah Khan Mohammadi, didn’t hold back his criticism of the fleeing President.

“They tied our hands from behind and sold the country,” he wrote on Twitter. “Curse Ghani and his gang.”

Also Read:Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani leaves country, say officials

The Taliban tried to calm Kabul residents, insisting their fighters wouldn’t enter people’s homes or interfere with businesses. They also said they’d offer an “amnesty” to those who worked with the Afghan government or foreign forces.

“No one’s life, property and dignity will be harmed and the lives of the citizens of Kabul will not be at risk,” the insurgents said.

But there have been reports of revenge killings and other brutal tactics in areas of the country the Taliban have seized in recent days.

Government offices, shops and schools are still shuttered in areas recently captured by the Taliban, with many residents either lying low or fleeing to the capital, Kabul. But already there are indications of a return to the harsh version of Islamic rule Afghans lived under from 1996 until 2001.

Many fear the Taliban will roll back two decades of gains by women and ethnic minorities while restricting the work of journalists and NGO workers. An entire generation of Afghans was raised on hopes of building a modern, democratic state — dreams that seem to have melted away.

As the insurgents reached the capital early on Sunday, a photo circulated on social media showing the owner of a beauty salon painting over posters depicting women. Young men raced home to change out of their jeans and tee-shirts and into the traditional salwar kamiz outfit.

Last month, after capturing Malistan district of Ghazni province, the insurgents went door to door looking for people who had worked with the government, killing at least 27 civilians, according to Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. After capturing Herat, the insurgents paraded two alleged thieves through the streets with black makeup on their faces.

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