The near-takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban, and their attempts at reformation, have left Afghan citizens and international governments skeptical.
By Daniel P. Rossmeisl (News Editor)
On Sunday, 15th August 2021, Taliban forces entered the outskirts of the Afghani capital of Kabul. This marked the fall of the last bastion of the USA-backed, Afghani government led by President Ashraf Ghani. President Ghani himself fled into exile within hours, leaving civil society as well as other government officials and military leaders to make their own plans in the face of the Taliban advance. On August 17th, First Vice-President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Amrullah Saleh, relying on Afghanistan’s alleged democratic constitution, announced that he was assuming power as the Acting President of Afghani government. Despite this claim, factions within the Taliban held a press conference that same day and have since engaged in negotiations with President Ghani and Former-President Hamid Karzai. It appears that Mr Saleh has been largely ignored by prominent international and Taliban parties.
For their part, Taliban have made a noticeable effort to distinguish their new position of leadership from that of their rule during the 1990s. The Taliban, roughly translated to “the students” or “the seekers”, were removed from power by military force in 2001 by coalition forces (primarily led by the USA in response to the 9/11 attacks), following their five-year rule of Afghanistan resulting from the preceding Afghan Civil War. As a result of the group’s association with a number of violent attacks, both within the country and abroad, as well as the particularly harsh enforcement of the Taliban’s interpretation of Sharia law, many international governments designate the Taliban a terrorist organisation. However, perhaps in an appeal to the international community for recognition, the group is making a concerted effort to minimise violence, project stability, and portray themselves as the legitimate new government of Afghanistan. Concessions have included the declaration of an alleged “amnesty” for all previous state officials and members of the Afghan military who cooperate with the new government. In addition, the Guardian’s coverage showed the group claiming that they wish to form an “inclusive, Islamic government.”
The group has even gone so far as to allow themselves to be interviewed by female journalists. This marks a departure from previous attitudes whereby the Taliban refused to recognise any (and at times made threats or even acted violently against) women working outside what the Taliban claimed was their “traditional role.” Nevertheless, many remain skeptical.
Women, in particular, are frantically erasing any possible evidence of links to the USA for fear of repercussions. At the time of writing this article, thousands of Afghans have made their way to Kabul’s international airport in a desperate bid to leave the country. Although the situation remains fluid, reports already show that at least seven Afghans have died in and around the airport. Reports from the Economist and the Guardian indicate that Taliban forces have fired warning shots on the premises, while other news agencies report that remaining USA forces have also fired warning shots in an attempt at crowd control. Elsewhere in the country, reports are emerging of Taliban violence against women and protesters – despite the assurances of Taliban spokespeople to the contrary.
In the meantime, though claiming victory and expressing an attempt to rule, the Taliban has yet to practically fill the political vacuum left by President Ghani’s departure.