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Taliban news conference hears promise of women's rights 'within the framework of Sharia'

NATO ambassadors are convening for an emergency meeting today.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid speaks at a new conference.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid speaks at a new conference.
Image: Rahmat Gul

Updated Aug 17th 2021, 6:45 PM

A TALIBAN SPOKESMAN gave a qualified promise that the insurgents who overran Afghanistan in recent days would respect women’s rights.

In his first news conference, Zabihullah Mujahid, who had been a shadowy figure for years, stressed the Taliban’s efforts to convince the world that it has changed from the group that imposed a brutal rule on the country in the 1990s.

Under the Taliban, which ruled in accordance with a harsh interpretation of Islamic law from 1996 to 2001, women were largely confined to their homes.

Mujahid promised the Taliban would honour women’s rights, but within the norms of Islamic law.

“The Islamic Emirate is committed to the rights of women within the framework of Sharia,” he said. 

Our sisters … have the same rights, will be able to benefit from their rights. They can have activities in different sectors and different areas on the basis of our rules and regulations, educational, health and other areas.

“They are going to be working with us, shoulder to shoulder with us, and the international community – if they have concerns – we would like to assure them that there is not going to be any discrimination against women, but of course within the frameworks that we have.” 

Mujahid also said that the war in Afghanistan was over and that all their opponents would be pardoned. 

“War has ended… (the leader) has pardoned everyone,” spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said, adding: “We are committed to letting women work in accordance with the principles of Islam.”

“Nobody is going to be treated with revenge,” he added.

The youths who have talents, who have grown up here – we do not want them to leave. These are our assets, we would like them to stay here to serve. We would like to assure you that no-one is going to knock on their door to inspect them or to ask them or interrogate them as to who they have been working for or interpreting for.

Mujahid claimed the Taliban will build up Afghanistan’s economy and is committed to a “free and independent media”.

However, he said he had “requests” for the media including that “nothing should be against Islamic values when it comes to the activities of the media, therefore Islamic values should be taken into account when it comes to the activities of the media”.

He said the media “should not work against national values, against national unity”.

Mujahid said: “When it comes to ethnic differences, religious differences and hostilities, they should not be actually promoted by the media, they should work … for the unity of the nation to have peaceful, brotherly living together.

Earlier, Enamullah Samangani, a member of the Taliban’s cultural commission, promised amnesty and encouraged women to join the government.

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

The capital of Kabul remained quiet for another day as the Taliban patrolled its streets and many residents stayed home, remain fearful after the insurgents’ takeover saw prisons emptied and armouries 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.

A broadcaster in Afghanistan said she was hiding at a relative’s house, too frightened to return home much less return to work following reports that the insurgents are also looking for journalists.

She said she and other women did not believe the Taliban had changed their ways.

Samangani addressed the concerns of women, saying they were “the main victims of the more than 40 years of crisis in Afghanistan”.

“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is ready to provide women with 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,” he said.

That would be a marked departure from the last time the Taliban were in power, when women were largely confined to their homes.

Samangani did not describe exactly what he meant by Islamic law, implying people already knew the rules.

In another sign of the Taliban’s efforts to portray a new image, a female television anchor on the private broadcaster Tolo interviewed a Taliban official on camera in a studio, an interaction that once would have been unthinkable.

Meanwhile, women in hijabs demonstrated briefly in Kabul, holding signs demanding the Taliban not “eliminate women” from public life. 

Other Taliban leaders are  said to be in Afghanistan’s capital negotiating with Kabul’s political leadership.

Those involved in the talks include Abdullah Abdullah, who once headed the country’s negotiating council, and former president Hamid Karzai, opposite Amir Khan Muttaqi of the Taliban.

An official said the talks are aimed at bringing other non-Taliban leaders into a new government.

defense one pic Over 600 people crammed onto the US military flight out of Kabul. Source: Courtesy of Defense One

There is little indication about the substance of the talks, but the Taliban spokesperson earlier told The Associated Press that a government will be announced after negotiations with non-Taliban leaders are completed.

Afghans familiar with the talks say some rounds have gone late into the night and have been underway since soon after the president’s departure on Sunday.

Earlier, the Taliban declared a “general amnesty” for government officials working in Afghanistan.

Two days after taking power following a lightning sweep through the country it urged officials to return to work.

“A general amnesty has been declared for all… so you should start your routine life with full confidence,” said a statement from the Taliban.

The Taliban captured Kabul, and most other main cities, with little bloodshed.

But in the capital, panic gripped many residents who feared a repeat of the Taliban’s brutal rule.

At the airport, thousands of Afghans scrambled to board the few flights available.

“We are afraid to live in this city,” a 25-year-old ex-soldier told AFP as he stood among huge crowds on the tarmac. “Since I served in the army, the Taliban would definitely target me.”

Crimes

The International Criminal Court has today expressed concern 

about reports of crimes in Afghanistan that may amount to violations of “international humanitarian law”.

“I have been closely following the current developments in Afghanistan and am most concerned by recent reports of escalating violence in the country,” said chief prosecutor Karim Khan.

“These reports include allegations of extrajudicial executions in the form of revenge killings of detainees and individuals who surrendered, persecution of women and girls, crimes against children and other crimes affecting the civilian population at large,” he added.

The alleged crime “may amount to violations of international humanitarian law”, Khan said in a statement, which his office might choose to investigate.

Evacuation

Last night, US President Joe Biden defended the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan after the Taliban’s military takeover.

Heaping criticism at the Western-backed government that was ousted with shockingly little resistance, he said US troops could not defend a nation whose leaders “gave up and fled”, as did President Ashraf Ghani.

“We gave them every chance to determine their own future. We could not provide them with the will to fight for that future,” Biden said in his address at the White House.

“American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves.”

The United States has sent 6,000 troops to ensure the safe evacuation of embassy staff, as well as Afghans who worked as interpreters or in other support roles. Other governments including France, Germany and Australia also organised charter flights.

Yesterday, dramatic footage posted on social media showed hundreds of men running alongside a US Air Force plane as it rolled down the runway, with some clinging to the side of it.

In other videos, civilians frantically clambered up an already overcrowded and buckling jetway.

One picture showed a jam-packed US military transport plane purportedly with about 640 Afghans on board — some of whom climbed onto the half-open ramp at the last minute and were allowed aboard.

Taliban fighters have taken over checkpoints across Kabul, and militants with rifles slung over their shoulders walked through the streets of the Green Zone, the heavily fortified district that houses most embassies and international organisations.

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NATO

97db92b3-17c1-44ce-bc7c-bd669c229d34 Source: PA

NATO ambassadors today held an emergency meeting discuss the implications of the Taliban’s advance with  secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg saying the military alliance had been let down by the Afghan army. 

Stoltenberg said “the Afghan political leadership failed to stand up” and added that “this failure of Afghan leadership led to the tragedy we are witnessing today”.

Referring to the way that the Afghan armed forces withered in the face of the Taliban offensive, Stoltenberg said that “was a surprise, the speed of the collapse and how quickly that happened”.

He says “there are lessons that need to be learned” at Nato.

Armin Laschet, the leader of Angela Merkel’s ruling party and candidate to be the next chancellor of Germany, earlier described the Afghanistan mission as “the biggest debacle” in NATO’s history.

Aoife MacManus

An Irish woman living currently in Kabul says she is hoping she will be able to leave and return home in the coming days.

Aoife MacManus, from Meath, is one of the small number of Irish citizens who were still in Afghanistan after the Taliban took power.

MacManus told the PA news agency that there is a “sense of panic and fear all over the city.”

“This last 24 hours has been so crazy, I don’t know how many places I’ve been,” McManus said.

As her and her colleagues left their work compound on Sunday, “everybody was crying because of the expectations of what things are going to be like”.

“All the work we’ve put into education, that it might all be for nothing.”

She said she noticed that Taliban fighters were now manning police cars.

“It’s been one night, but it’s definitely changed.”

Contains reporting from the Press Association

© AFP 2021

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