Afghans fear a return of brutal rule despite Taliban promises

They are threatening a new era in Afghanistan with peace and amnesty for all those they have been fighting for over two decades, as well as normal life.

Afghans fear a return of brutal rule despite Taliban promises

But Afghans who remember the Taliban's brutal rule and those who have lived in areas controlled by the Islamic militants in recent years have watched with growing fear as the insurgents have overrun most of the country while international forces withdraw.

Many people are fleeing to Kabul or hiding in the hills, as many government offices, shops, and schools remain closed in the areas that were recently captured by Taliban. Already, there are signs of a return of the strict Islamic rule Afghans experienced from 1996 to 2001 when the U.S. expelled the Taliban from power following the 9/11 attacks.

Many are concerned that the Taliban will reverse the gains made by women and ethnic minorities over the past two decades, while also restricting the activities of journalists and NGO workers. A whole generation of Afghans was brought up in hopes of building a democratic, modern state. These dreams seem to have been shattered by the Taliban's constant advance.

A photo was shared on social media that showed the owner of a beauty shop painting over posters featuring women as the insurgents arrived at the capital early Sunday morning. Young men raced home to get out of their jeans, t-shirts, and into traditional shalwar kamiz attire.

In cities taken by the Taliban, shops, government offices, and schools are still closed. Residents have fled to Kabul or stayed indoors because of security concerns. Many seemed to be hiding until they saw what order the militants would impose.

A 25-year old university graduate who works in the western city Herat for a local NGO said that she has not left her home since the Taliban took control of Herat last week. She said that there were not many women on the streets and that even female doctors stayed home until things improved.

She said, calling from Herat, "I cannot face Taliban fighters," and asked that her name not used out of fear of retribution. "I don’t have a positive feeling about them. The Taliban will not change their stance on women and girls. They still want women to remain at home.

Herat University is home to more than half the student body, and she had planned to start a master's degree program.

She said that she didn't think she would be ready for a burqa, the all-encompassing blue robe women were forced into wearing under Taliban rule. It is unacceptable to me. "I will fight for my rights no matter what happens."

Statements by the Taliban were issued to reassure Afghans. They state that there will not be any reprisals on government employees or security personnel and that their "life, property, and honor" will all be protected. They urge Afghans to stay in Afghanistan and pledge to create a secure environment for businesses, embassies and foreign and local charities.

However, some of their actions send an entirely different message.

According to the semi-official Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, Taliban fighters invaded homes looking for people who worked with the government last month after seizing Malistan in the southern Ghazni region. They killed at least 27 civilians and wounded 10 others, looting houses, and wounding ten more.

Two alleged thieves were paraded through the streets by Taliban fighters after capturing Herat. They were wearing black makeup. This is considered a warning and repeat offenders could be subject to severe punishment. As per their strict interpretation of Islamic law, the Taliban are known to execute public executions and stone suspected adulterers.

During their earlier rule, the Taliban barred women from working outside the home or attending school. The burqa was required for women and they had to be accompanied outside by a male relative.

The Taliban leadership claims it is now open to women's education. However, rights groups claim that the rules are subject to change depending on the local commanders and communities. Afghanistan is still a conservative country, particularly outside of major cities.

Human Rights Watch, based in New York, stated that "the gap between official Taliban statements regarding rights and the restrictive positions taken by Taliban officials on ground indicates that the Taliban have far from an internal consensus about their own policies." In a report last year, the New York-based Human Rights Watch noted.

They seem to agree on one issue: intolerance of dissent.

Human Rights Watch claims that the Taliban regularly threaten and detain journalists, especially women and journalists who criticize the group. The Taliban and the government blamed each other for a recent string of killings of journalists, some of which were claimed by the more radical Islamic State group.

On Friday, the Taliban took control of a radio station located in Kandahar's southern city and renamed the station the Voice of Sharia. It is unclear if the Taliban expelled the employees of the station or allowed them to return. The station will not broadcast music because it is prohibited in Taliban-run areas.

A radio station offering women's programming was also shut down by the Taliban in southern Helmand. However, insurgents claimed it was a temporary move.

Fear is high among ethnic Hazara, Shiite Muslims from Shiite Islam who have been persecuted and made significant gains in education over the past 20 years. They could be seen as being deeply invested in the Western-backed government which could lead to reprisals.

Recent years have seen a series of horrendous attacks on Hazaras by Sunni extremists from the local IS affiliate. An attack on a maternity ward last year killed 24 people, including mothers and their newborn babies.

The Taliban condemned the attacks and have engaged in turf wars against IS. It remains to be seen if the Taliban will clamp down on these groups once they are in power. These groups share their ideology and include ex-Taliban fighters.

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