KABUL: The Taliban raised their flag over the Afghan presidential palace Saturday, a spokesman said, as the US 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. 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.”
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. Instead, they inch through chaotic, clogged traffic in the city of more than 5 million. In Taliban-controlled Kabul in the 1990s, barber shops were banned. Now Taliban fighters get the latest haircuts, even if their beards remain untouched in line with their religious beliefs.
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 said she’s not surprised about America’s withdrawal.
At a dusty book store in Kabul’s Karte Sangi neighbourhood, 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. Why didn’t we work with them? Instead they went to fight,” he said.” And now we are back to where we were 20 years ago.”
Meanwhile, women in Afghanistan will be allowed to study in universities as the country seeks to rebuild after decades of war but gender-segregation and Islamic dress code will be mandatory, the Taliban’s new higher education minister said Sunday.
The minister, Abdul Baqi Haqqani, said the new Taliban government, named last week, would “start building the country on what exists today” and did not want to turn the clock back 20 years to when the movement was last in power. He said female students would be taught by women wherever possible and classrooms would remain separated, in accordance with the movement’s interpretation of Sharia law.
“Thank God we have a high number of woman teachers. We will not face any problems in this. All efforts will be made to find and provide woman teachers for female students,” he told a news conference in Kabul. The issue of women’s education has been one of the central questions facing the Taliban as they seek to persuade the world that they have changed since the harsh fundamentalist rule they imposed in the 1990s when women were largely banned from studying or working outside the home.
Taliban officials have said women will be able to study and work in accordance with Sharia law and local cultural traditions but strict dress rules will apply. Haqqani said ‘Hijab’ religious veils would be mandatory for all female students but did not specify if this meant headscarves or compulsory face coverings.
On Saturday, a group, apparently made up of woman students in black robes that covered them completely from head to foot, demonstrated in Kabul in support of the rules on dress and separate classrooms.
Haqqani said where no woman teachers were available special measures would be adopted to ensure separation. “When there is really a need, men can also teach (women) but in accordance with Sharia, they should observe the veil,” he added. Classrooms would be curtained off to divide male and female students where necessary and teaching could also be done through streaming or closed circuit TV.
Classrooms divided by curtains have already been seen in many places since the Western-backed government collapsed and the Taliban seized Kabul last month. Haqqani told reporters that gender segregation would be enforced across Afghanistan and all subjects taught at colleges would also be reviewed in the coming months.
The Afghan cops are back to operate the checkpoints at Kabul airport alongside the Taliban security personnel for the first time since the latter’s takeover of the country, officers said Sunday.
When the Taliban swept into Kabul last month ousting the government, police abandoned their posts, fearful of what the group would do. But two officers said they had returned to work Saturday after receiving calls from Taliban commanders.
On Sunday, an AFP correspondent at the airport saw border police members deployed at several checkpoints outside the main buildings of the airport, including the domestic terminal. "I came back to work yesterday more than two weeks after being sent home," one of the police force members told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"I received a call from a senior Taliban commander who asked me to come back," another officer said. "Yesterday was great, so happy to serve again." The Taliban say they have granted a general amnesty to everyone who worked for the former government — including the army, police, and other security branches.
Kabul airport was severely damaged during the chaotic evacuation of over 120,000 people that ended with the withdrawal of US forces on August 30. The Taliban, who swept into Kabul after routing government forces on August 15, have been scrambling to get the capital’s airport operating again with Qatari technical assistance.
The United Arab Emirates has set up an air bridge to deliver tons of aid to Afghanistan, with aircraft bringing in hundreds of tonnes of medical and food supplies.
An airport employee who handles security for a private company confirmed that the border police had been deployed around the airport since Saturday. "They are sharing the security with the Taliban," he told AFP.
Qatar Airways has operated charter flights out of Kabul in recent days, carrying mostly foreigners and Afghans who missed being taken out during the evacuation. An Afghan airline resumed domestic flights last week, while Pakistan International Airlines is expected to begin flights from Islamabad to Kabul in the coming days.
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