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In power again, the Taliban tries to reassure an uneasy populace, including Afghan women


In a bid to restore calm and reassure a shell-shocked capital, the Taliban announced a “general amnesty” and urged government employees — including women — to return to work as Afghans continued to recalibrate their existence under a new, potentially harsh regime.

An official in the Taliban’s cultural commission, Enamullah Samangani, made the amnesty announcement in a statement he read out on state television, which the Taliban had commandeered. “A general amnesty has been declared for all … so you should start your routine life with full confidence,” he said.

Samangani promised that former government officials, as well as people who worked with foreign militaries and nongovernmental organizations, would not be harmed.

Crucially, Samangani added that women should participate in government and that the “the Islamic Emirate” — the Taliban’s name for Afghanistan — “doesn’t want women to be victims,” despite the group’s notorious subjugation of women and girls during its first run at ruling Afghanistan a quarter-century ago.

“They should be in government structure according to Sharia law,” Samangani said, but acknowledged that the structure was “not fully clear.”

That assertion was already being put to the test Tuesday as women journalists with the Afghan TOLO news network continued to appear on television, with one female presenter also engaging in a debate with a Taliban official — a scene that would have been unfathomable in the previous era of Taliban rule between 1996 and 2001.

At the same time, Mullah Yaqoob, son of the group’s cofounder, Mullah Omar, and head of the Taliban’s military commission, issued a statement barring fighters from entering houses or confiscating weapons or vehicles belonging to former officials. His declaration came after reports of men identifying themselves as Taliban members looted residences and made off with cars. The Taliban provided phone numbers for Kabul residents to report instances of harassment by anyone claiming to be a member of the group.

The official statements were a clear attempt by the Taliban to reassure a jittery populace unsure what to make of their new overseers. How successful that attempt will be — and how long any soft touch will last — remains to be seen.

Many Afghans are still intent on trying to exit their war-racked country. On the road to Kabul’s international airport — the scene of pandemonium and panic just the day before — more than 1,000 people lined the pavement, crowding into shady areas while they waited to enter the heavily guarded facility.

At the corner near the airport entrance, hundreds of men, women and children were packed like sardines in a penned area lined with barbed wire, while Taliban guards roamed the street outside the gate, using whips, rifle butts, sticks and other makeshift weapons to chase people away. Others fired their machine guns in the air to disperse crowds.

Inside the airport, a semblance of order had been restored, with troops from the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne deployed to clear the tarmac of people. On Monday, those runways had been swarmed by thousands of desperate Afghans frantically clinging to taxiing transport planes even as bug-like Apache helicopters buzzed the field to disperse the crowds.

Seven people died in the melee, including a number who fell from a plane that was taking off and another in the landing-gear area. Although evacuations of foreigners and some vulnerable Afghans have resumed, commercial flights to and from Kabul remain suspended until further notice.

In the capital’s Shar-e-naw district, shops, bakeries and a few restaurants were open, though more upscale establishments and a shoe store remained closed. Although foot traffic was less than usual, with many Afghans hunkering down in their homes to gauge the new situation, women were still out in the streets, only some of them wearing the full-body burqa the Taliban had made compulsory for women during its previous reign.

In another sign of at least temporary continuity, some officials, including Kabul’s mayor and the acting national health minister, remained in their posts and resumed work Tuesday.

“They [the Taliban] are not in a hurry to replace everybody,” said one advisor to former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who asked not to be identified to avoid any reprisals. “Once you get into these technical matters — projects, construction, dams, roads, the civil service — it’s a more complicated system and operation than they have ever been involved in, and they’ll be held accountable and will have scrutiny.”

There were reports that Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s lead negotiator, had left the Qatari capital of Doha on Tuesday and would be landing in Kabul along with other members of the group’s political leadership. Baradar had been in Doha for talks with the U.S. and former Afghan officials.




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