As peace talks continue, Afghans fear return of Taliban

Gun law: A March 2 photo of Taliban militants and villagers at a gathering in Alingar district of Laghman province.  

Almost two decades after the United States launched air strikes against Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban regime and started what would become America’s longest-ever war, the hardline group is in a stronger position than ever.

The invasion that followed those October 7, 2001 strikes quickly toppled the militants, who had harboured the Al-Qaeda, the group behind the September 11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in America just weeks earlier.

Now, 19 years since the collapse of their brutal Islamist regime, the Taliban is pushing for a return to power, having signed a landmark troop withdrawal deal with Washington in February and currently holding peace talks with the Afghan government.

Fearful that the Taliban has changed little since the darkest days of its regime — when it killed women accused of adultery, attacked minority religious groups and barred girls from going to school — many Afghans worry about a new era of Taliban influence.

“I remember the Taliban regime like a nightmare. We are scared for our future and my daughter’s future,” said Kabul resident Katayoun Ahmadi, a 26-year-old mother.

She recalled seeing severed hands and fingers on Kabul’s streets following amputations for petty crimes under the Taliban’s strict interpretation of Sharia law.

Enduring improvements

The 2001 invasion heralded some enduring improvements for young Afghans — particularly girls — and ushered in a Constitution guaranteeing certain freedoms, including the right to education.

But so far in peace talks in Doha, which started last month, the Taliban has said little about issues such as women’s rights or freedom of expression.

Ms. Ahmadi’s husband Farzad Farnood, 35, a researcher for the Afghanistan Institute for Strategic Studies, said a rise in Taliban violence since a deal was signed between the hardline group and Washington shows the militants have not changed. “Is this creating hope for Afghans? No, it is not,” he said.

As a teenager, he witnessed the Taliban stoning a woman to death and public executions and floggings in Kabul’s football stadium. His family had to hide their black-and-white television’s antenna in a tree when the Taliban banned music and entertainment. “All the achievements we have made in the last 18 years did not exist in the Taliban era.”

Zia-ul-Rahman, a former insurgent, said the Taliban was pushing for “the establishment of an Islamic system”, even though the Constitution already gives primacy to the religion. “We have no problem with girls getting an education or women working, but they have to wear a hijab,” he added.

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2021 5:37:49 AM |

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