Taliban flag rises over seat of power on fateful anniversary

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban raised their flag over the Afghan presidential palace Saturday, a spokesman said, as the U.S. and the world marked the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

The white banner, emblazoned with a Quranic verse, was hoisted by Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund, the prime minister of the Taliban interim government, in a low-key ceremony, said Ahmadullah Muttaqi, multimedia branch chief of the Taliban’s cultural commission.

The flag-raising marked the official start of the work of the new government, he said. International community was disappointed to hear that the Taliban had announced the composition of their all-male, all Taliban government earlier in the week. They were trying to fulfill an earlier promise about an inclusive line-up.

In a tweet, Afghanistan’s first president to follow the 2001 collapse of the Taliban, Hamid Karzai, called for “peace and stability” and expressed the hope that the new caretaker Cabinet that included no women and no non-Taliban would become an “inclusive government that can be the real face of the whole Afghanistan.”

He marked the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on America with a meeting of tribal elders on his high-walled compound in the Afghan capital where he has remained with his family since the August return of the Taliban to Kabul.

Two decades ago, the Taliban ruled Afghanistan with a heavy hand. Television was banned, and on Sept. 11, 2001, the day of the horrific attacks on America, the news spread from crackling radios across the darkened streets of the Afghan capital of Kabul.

The city rarely had electricity and barely a million people lived in Kabul at the time. The U.S.-led coalition took just two months for the Taliban to be driven out of Kabul. By December 7, 2001,, they had been defeated.

Twenty years later, the Taliban are back in Kabul. America has departed, ending its ‘forever war’ two weeks before the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and two weeks after the Taliban returned to the Afghan capital on Aug. 15.

Some things have changed since the first period of Taliban rule in the 1990s.

This time, the gun-toting fighters don’t race through the city streets in their pickups. They instead navigate through the chaotic traffic jammed with more than 5,000,000 people in this city. Barbershops were outlawed in Taliban-controlled Kabul, 1990s. Taliban fighters now have the most recent haircuts even though their beards are not altered in accordance with their religious beliefs.

But the Taliban have begun issuing harsh edits that have hit women hardest, such as banning women’s sports. To stop women protesting for equal rights, they have used violence.

Inside a high-end women’s store in the city’s Karte Se neighborhood Saturday, Marzia Hamidi, a Taekwondo competitor with ambitions of being a national champion, said the return of the Taliban has crushed her dreams.

She was among the women attacked by the Taliban and called “agents of the West” during one of the recent protests. She stated that she is not surprised by America’s decision to withdraw.

“This year or next year, they had to leave eventually,” she said. “They came for their own interest and they left for their interest.”

Hamidi is hoping the Taliban will relent and ease their restrictions, but with a glance toward the store owner, Faisal Naziri, she said “most men in Afghanistan agree with what the Taliban say about women and their rules against them.”

Naziri nodded, saying preserving the rights of women is not a cause that will bring Afghan men on the streets.

On Saturday, the Taliban even orchestrated a women’s march of their own. The march featured dozens of women covered in black veil, from head to foot. They filled an auditorium at Kabul University’s education center in a well-choreographed snub to the past 20 years of Western efforts to empower women.

Speakers read from scripted speeches celebrating the Taliban victory over a West they charged was anti-Islam. A few women marched out of the centre grounds waving signs that said “the women who left don’t represent us”, referring to thousands who fled fearing a Taliban crackdown against women’s rights. Another banner read, “We don’t want coeducation.”

Outside the hall, the Taliban director of higher education, Maulvi Mohammad Daoud Haqqani, said 9/11 was the day “the world started their propaganda against us calling us terrorists and blaming us” for the attacks in the United States.

At a dusty book store in Kabul’s Karte Sangi neighborhood, Atta Zakiri, a self-declared civil society activist said America was wrong to attack Afghanistan after 9/11.

He blamed the invasion that followed the 9/11 attacks for creating another generation of hardline Taliban fighters.

“The Taliban should have been allowed to stay. We should have worked with them. Instead they went to fight,” he said.” And now we are back to where we were 20 years ago.”

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