Afghanistan after the US withdrawal: The Taliban speak more moderately but their extremist rule hasn't evolved in 20 years

In early 2021, some Taliban fighters surrendered their weapons to support peace talks with the Afghan government. Today the Islamist extremist group is fighting against government forces to control the country.
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The Taliban are rapidly gaining territory in Afghanistan while the United States is withdrawing its troops from the war-torn country. The militant group now holds at least a third of Afghanistan's 364 counties.
For two decades, the Afghan government has relied heavily on American military power to defend itself against the bloody uprising of the Taliban, a radical Islamic organization that took control of the country in 1996.
During the five-year Taliban rule - which other governments avoided almost everywhere, but received military and political support from Pakistan - women were forbidden to work, go to school or leave the house without male relatives. Men were forced to grow beards and wear hats or turbans. Music and other entertainment were banned.
A trim in Kabul, November 2001. Alexander Nemenov / AFP via Getty Images
Anyone who does not adhere to this Code runs the risk of being publicly whipped, beaten, or humiliated. Women who disobeyed these rules were sometimes killed.
Twenty years have passed since the 2001 US invasion, which quickly overthrew the Taliban regime. Most Taliban fighters are under 30 today. Some were not even born in 2001.
What does the group stand for today?
The Taliban then and now
The 2001 Taliban defeat was celebrated by Afghans inside and outside Afghanistan.
Children began to fly kites and play games - both of which were previously prohibited. Couples played music at their weddings, and women left home to work without fear of being beaten by Taliban enforcers. Many men have shaved their beards. Afghanistan has opened up to the world.
Neither the Taliban nor the violence went away as the climate of fear subsided, but Afghans found a semblance of normal life again.
Today, younger members of the Taliban, a group once known for shunning technology, have used social media, television and radio to promote their extremist version of Islamic law. The rhetoric of its senior leaders has also changed since 2001 - at least internationally.
During peace negotiations and visits abroad, the Taliban leadership has expressed both the conviction that women have rights under Islamic law and the desire to reduce violence in Afghanistan. The group has also pledged to protect public infrastructure such as government buildings, roads and schools, which it has often attacked.
In very few areas of Afghanistan that have been controlled by the Taliban for many years, local members of the group have enabled girls to go to school after community leaders negotiated with local Taliban leaders.
A new emirate
But their policies are tougher in newly conquered areas.
According to various reports on Afghan radio stations Radio Liberty and Radio Salam Watandar, Taliban rulers in the north and northeast of Afghanistan have asked families to marry off one girl per family with their fighters; said women should not leave home without a male relative; and ordered men to pray and grow beards in mosques.
The Independent Commission on Administrative Reform and Public Services, an Afghan government agency, says public infrastructure has been destroyed and social services shut down in many Taliban-controlled areas, leaving 13 million people without public services.
All evidence suggests that the Taliban still believe in restoring their old emirate system, in which an unelected religious leader or emir was the final decision maker. No one could contest his judgments because it was believed that he had divine authority from God.
"What has changed? Absolutely nothing," said Ahmad Rashid, a Pakistani journalist who has been reporting on Afghanistan for 20 years, to Deutsche Welle in July 2021. "The Taliban don't believe in democracy. They just want the government to collapse with it they can recapture Afghanistan and enforce their system again. "
Bearded men in white robes and headgear walk close together in a hotel-like setting
A dubious negotiating partner
The US troop withdrawal follows a controversial agreement between the US and the Taliban from February 2020, which was initiated by former President Donald Trump.
In the agreement, the United States agreed to withdraw from Afghanistan - thereby fulfilling a long-term goal of the Taliban - if the Taliban stop violence against American forces, sever ties with al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups and initiate peace talks with the Afghan government.
US President Joe Biden has defended his decision to leave Afghanistan, but there are good reasons to doubt the Taliban's commitment to peace.
According to a recent United Nations report, 5,459 Afghans have been killed since the US-Taliban agreement was signed in 2020, and the Taliban were responsible for 62% of those deaths.
In my decades of first working for the Afghan government and then studying Afghanistan as an academic, I have not found any reliable historical evidence that the group adheres to a domestic agreement it signed with a party in Afghanistan.
She has killed opponents at gatherings allegedly convened to discuss a ceasefire and refused to go to school for girls after pledging to educate them.
So far, the Taliban have kept their promise to the US not to attack the withdrawing US forces. However, ongoing talks with the Afghan government have not resulted in a ceasefire or power-sharing agreement for Afghanistan.
"Why did the Taliban want to compromise when the [US] force] was given a withdrawal date?" Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan asked at a July 2021 conference I attended on regional security in Southwest Asia.
"Why should you listen to us when you feel the victory?"
A dozen or more men with large arms stand in front of a house with arched windows
Terrorist connections
Under the rule of the Taliban, Afghanistan hosted many terrorists who attacked American interests around the world.
One of the terrorists was the al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, who planned the 1998 bombings on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. Bin Laden was killed by US forces at his home in Pakistan in 2011, but al-Qaeda cells continue to operate in Southwest Asia and beyond.
And the Taliban are still associating with the group - a violation of their 2020 deal with the United States. According to a US government report from May 2021, "the Taliban have close ties with al-Qaeda".
According to recent reports from Indian security agencies, terrorist groups based in Pakistan are working with the Taliban to fight the Afghan armed forces in Afghanistan as well.
Journalist Ahmad Rashid says that once the US leaves, the Taliban are unlikely to reach an agreement as long as the Pakistani military continues to provide refuge for their leaders and their families in Pakistan. The Taliban leadership is safe while young Taliban fighters lead their uprising in Afghanistan.
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This article was republished by The Conversation, a non-profit news site dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts. It was written by: Sher Jan Ahmadzai, University of Nebraska Omaha.
Continue reading:
Why the US cannot evade moral responsibility when leaving Afghanistan
The US is withdrawing from Afghanistan after 20 years of war: 4 questions about this historic moment
Sher Jan Ahmadzai does not work for, advise, own or fund any companies or organizations that would benefit from this article, and has not disclosed any relevant connections beyond her academic appointment.

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