The Taliban's longtime spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, in his first-ever public appearance, told reporters in Kabul on Tuesday that the Taliban has declared an "amnesty" for officials of the U.S.-backed government it just toppled, "pardoned all those who have fought against us," and is "committed to the rights of women under the system of Islamic law," including working and attending school "within our frameworks." He also endorsed an "independent" media so long as journalists don't "work against national values," and assured the world that Afghanistan won't be used as a base to attack other countries this time around.
These assurances represent a very different Taliban than the brutal pariah regime that ran Afghanistan as a "draconian fundamentalist state" from 1996 to 2001, The Washington Post's Ishaan Tharoor explains.
The Taliban's more tolerant and moderate public face was met with skepticism at home and abroad. "This is not about trust, this is about verify," National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said at a White House briefing Tuesday. "It's going to be up to the Taliban to show the rest of the world who they are and how they intend to proceed. The track record has not been good."
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres warned of "chilling reports of severe restrictions on human rights" across Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. But the reports are mixed, with some Taliban commanders closing schools for girls and banning women from work and others reopening schools for both sexes and encouraging women to return to the office, The New York Times reports. "We are cautiously optimistic on moving forward," said UNICEF's Kabul operations chief Mustapha Ben Messaoud.
One female Afghan TV journalist broadcast live from Kabul Tuesday and interviewed a Taliban official, and women were among the reporters asking Mujahid questions Tuesday afternoon. But Afghan women are "are worried that they will be pushed back at least a century," Roya Rahmani, who became Afghanistan's first female envoy to Washington in 2018, told The Washington Post.
Hosna Jalil, a senior Interior Ministry official in the toppled government, warned the world not to trust the Taliban's new "reassuring messages" about women's rights. "Once Afghanistan becomes irrelevant and it's dropped from the headlines," as "it was before 2001," she told the Post, the Taliban "will start targeting every single individual who has been a vocal voice in the past or whoever has the intention to raise a voice on behalf of herself."