On the day the United States and the world commemorated the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the Taliban flew its flag over the presidential palace in Kabul, where until last month the tricolor Afghanistan national flag flew.
The white banner with the Shahada (testimony) written across it was raised at an 11 a.m. ceremony Saturday to mark the beginning of work for the Taliban’s caretaker government, said Ahmadullah Muttaqi, multimedia chief of the Taliban’s cultural commission, according to the Associated Press. Muttaqi stated that the flag was raised by Mohammad Hasah Akhund (the new prime minister of the Taliban).
The Taliban did not issue a formal statement on the anniversary of the al-Qaeda terrorist attacks that preluded them being driven from power 20 years earlier. The flag’s image served to remind the Taliban of their remarkable return following two decades of war against U.S. forces. As the United States ended its military presence in Afghanistan, Taliban forces overtook Afghan troops. They stormed into Kabul on last month.
Since 2001, the U.S.-led coalition has substantially weakened al-Qaeda, and the Taliban has said that it would stop the international terrorist group from using Afghanistan as its base — though some ties between the two groups remain, outside observers say.
Rather than dealing with the terrorist issue, the Taliban seems mostly focused on consolidating power and organizing a government. As allegations of human rights violations grow, terror has increased in the northern Panjshir province.
In the Paktia province south of Kabul, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said at a gathering that “signals are positive” that the Islamic Emirate will be recognized at an international level, reported Ariana News. He said that the Taliban is providing what the international community wants: the maintenance of countrywide security and a “clear policy” and assurance countering “fears that Afghanistan will become a threat against them.”
But the United States and many Western allies have made no firm pledges on dealings with the Taliban government.
Among the many complications for diplomatic recognition and international aid is the Taliban’s outreach to the Haqqani network, a faction seen as a conduit between the Taliban and al-Qaeda and whose leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani, is on the FBI’s most wanted list, with a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest. As acting interior minister, he oversees the country’s intelligence and police services. Others from the Haqqani network also play important roles within Taliban government.
Another issue is the role of women in the Islamist society, especially those who served as civil servants under the previous government. Official comments from the Taliban have not been made on female civil servants.
On Saturday, the Taliban repeated a call for civil servants to return to work — but not most of the thousands of women who served before the Islamist militants’ takeover, who have been sent home from their offices.
One civil servant, who spoke to The Washington Post on Saturday on the condition of anonymity due to fears of backlash from the Taliban, said she visited her office several days ago but was told to return home by an armed Taliban guard outside her office. Officials told her that no decision has been made on her salary and she hasn’t heard from them. Since the Taliban took power, only women working in education and health have been permitted to go back to work.
In an apparent Taliban attempt at portraying public support, women in full-face veils joined a demonstration backing the Taliban and its policies of gender segregation, as they were flanked by Taliban fighters carrying machine guns and rifles. The women marched outside, some of them holding signs including banners reading in English: “We are satisfied with attitude and behavior of Mujahideens” and “We don’t want coeducation.” Protests that do not have the Taliban’s approval have been banned.
“We are against those women who are protesting on the streets, claiming they are representative of women,” said one speaker at the pro-Taliban demonstration, according to Agence France-Presse. She claimed that the previous government had “misused women”.
Clashes, meanwhile, have continued in the rebellious Panjshir province, which Taliban militants said they captured this week. According to witnesses, residents claim that there’s an extreme shortage of basic food and medicine in the area. The Taliban also claimed they have carried out extrajudicial murders of civilians. These reports have been denied by the Taliban.
A 52-year-old woman who recently fled the province described the clashes there as the “worst time” for her and her family.
“We could hear gunshots and shouting in the streets, and the Taliban was going from house to house to search for resistance fighters and weapons,” she said, speaking on the condition of anonymity, citing the security situation. She said that Taliban fighters came knocking at her door asking her for information about people who were connected to both the military and the government. Her family has not been supportive of either side.
Others who recently left said they had to pass some half-dozen checkpoints before reaching Kabul, all guarded by armed Taliban fighters. One Kabul resident who was visiting the Panjshir valley to assist family members fleeing the violence said that he was ordered by Taliban officials to remove any photographs and videos taken there.
The United Nations human rights office said Friday that it was growing concerned over “an increasingly violent response” by the Taliban to protests, including the use of “live ammunition, batons and whips.”
Claire Parker in Washington and Sudarsan Raghavan in Doha, Qatar, contributed to this report.