Even as women in Afghanistan from all walks of life – from filmmakers to photographers – have taken to social media to express fears about their futures under Taliban rule and plead for help, the insurgent group has declared an “amnesty” across Afghanistan and urged women to join its government.
The promises of amnesty from Enamullah Samangani, a member of the Taliban's cultural commission, were the first comments on how the Taliban might govern on a national level. His remarks remained vague, however, as the Taliban are still negotiating with political leaders of the country’s fallen government and no formal handover deal has been announced.
“The Islamic Emirate doesn't want women to be victims,” Samangani said, using the militants' name for Afghanistan. “They should be in the government structure according to Shariah law.”
Samangani didn't describe exactly what he meant by Shariah, or Islamic, law, implying people already knew the rules the Taliban expected them to follow. He added that "all sides should join” a government.
It was also not clear what he meant by an amnesty, although other Taliban leaders have said they won’t seek revenge on those who worked with the Afghan government or foreign countries. But some in Kabul allege Taliban fighters have lists of people who cooperated with the government and are seeking them out.
Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the United Nations' high commissioner for human rights, noted both the Taliban's vows and the fear of those now under their rule.
“Such promises will need to be honoured, and for the time being — again understandably, given past history — these declarations have been greeted with some skepticism,” he said in a statement. “There have been many hard-won advances in human rights over the past two decades. The rights of all Afghans must be defended.”
Notably, a female television anchor on the private broadcaster Tolo interviewed a Taliban official on camera Tuesday in a studio. Meanwhile, women in hijabs demonstrated briefly in Kabul, holding signs demanding the Taliban not “eliminate women” from public life.
It is women, after all, that have the most to lose with the return of the Taliban and their strict interpretation of Islamic law. Especially young women who grew up in a mostly Taliban-free Afghanistan where they could dare to dream of careers and girls got an education.
The fundamentalist group ruled the country for five years until the 2001 US-led invasion. During that time, it forbade girls education and women the right to work and refused even to let them travel outside their homes without a male relative to accompany them. The Taliban also carried out public executions, chopped off the hands of thieves and stoned women accused of adultery.
There have been no confirmed reports of such extreme measures in areas the Taliban fighters recently seized. But militants were reported to have taken over some houses and set fire to at least one school.
At a park in Kabul, transformed since last week into a shelter for the displaced, families told AP on Friday that girls riding home in a motorized rickshaw in the northern Takhar province were stopped and lashed for wearing “revealing sandals.”
‘Could be next on their hit list’
Filmmaker Sahra Karimi put up clips on social media detailing her experiences after the Taliban surrounded Kabul.
A harrowing clip on Instagram showed a panicked Karimi literally running for her life through the streets of Kabul. “The Taliban entered Kabul, unfortunately, and we were detained. Pray for us,” she said.
Later, on Twitter, Karimi narrated recounted how she went to the bank to get some money but the branch was closed and then evacuated.
Taliban surrounded Kabul, I were to bank to get some money, they closed and evacuated; I still cannot believe this happened, who did happen. Please pray for us, I am calling again: Hey ppl of the this big world, please do not be silent , they are coming to kill us. pic.twitter.com/wIytLL3ZNu — Sahraa Karimi/ صحرا كريمي (@sahraakarimi) August 15, 2021
Just days ago, Karimi, the only Afghan woman with a PhD in cinema and the director of the award-nominated film Hava, Maryam, Ayesha in an open appeal on social media wrote, “If the Taliban take over they will ban all art. I and other filmmakers could be next on their hit list."
To All the #Film_Communities in The World and Who Loves Film and Cinema! I write to you with a broken heart and a deep hope that you can join me in protecting my beautiful people, especially filmmakers from the Taliban. #Share it please, don't be #silent. pic.twitter.com/4FjW6deKUi — Sahraa Karimi/ صحرا كريمي (@sahraakarimi) August 13, 2021
Zarifa Ghafari, the mayor of Maidan Shahr and the first and youngest ever woman mayor in Afghanistan, said, “I’m sitting here waiting for them to come. There is no one to help me or my family. I’m just sitting with them and my husband. And they will come for people like me and kill me. I can’t leave my family. And anyway, where would I go?”
Yesterday Zarifa Ghafari told @michael2day: “I’m sitting here waiting for them to come. There is no one to help me or my family. I’m just sitting with them and my husband. And they will come for people like me and kill me. I can’t leave my family. And anyway, where would I go?” pic.twitter.com/X2UC9wDGNE — i newspaper (@theipaper) August 16, 2021
On Friday, Iranian journalist and activist Masih Alinejad posted this video of a young girl expressing her fear about what is in store for young women in Afghanistan:
"We don't count because we're from Afghanistan. We'll die slowly in history" Tears of a hopeless Afghan girl whose future is getting shattered as the Taliban advance in the country. My heart breaks for women of Afghanistan. The world has failed them. History will write this. pic.twitter.com/i56trtmQtF — Masih Alinejad 🏳️ (@AlinejadMasih) August 13, 2021
Afghan photographer Rada Akbar similarly pleaded for help on Twitter:
with every city collapsing, human bodies collapse, dreams collapse, history and future collapse, art and culture collapse, life and beauty collapse, our world collapse. someone please stop this.💔 — Rada Akbar (@RADAAKBAR) August 12, 2021
The football players in the Afghanistan women’s national team now fearing for their lives have been making tearful calls for help to Khalida Popal, a former player who helped established the team and who served as a director at the Afghanistan Football Association.
Popal, who had to relocate to Denmark due to death threats, told AP, “I have been encouraging to take down social media channels, take down photos, escape and hide themselves.”
“That breaks my heart because of all these years we have worked to raise the visibility of women and now I’m telling my women in Afghanistan to shut up and disappear. Their lives are in danger.” “It’s been very painful to witness when yesterday the government surrendered,” Popal added. “Women lost hope.”
Talks continue in Kabul
Meanwhile, talks to expand a future Afghan government beyond only Taliban members are continuing in Kabul.
Officials close to the discussions on Tuesday are hoping for “some good news” within a day or two. They spoke on condition of anonymity because until now no one wanted details of negotiations released to the media.
Senior Taliban leader Amir Khan Muttaqi has already held several rounds of talks with Kabul’s political leadership, including Abdullah Abdullah, who once headed the country’s negotiating council and former president Hamid Karzai.
At least one round of the talks went through the night. The discussion appeared to focus on how a Taliban-dominated government would respond to rights gained over the last 20 years. The announcements of a general amnesty and urging women to return to work appeared to indicate progress may have been made.
Muttaqi, a former higher education minister when the Taliban last ruled, began making contacts with Afghan political leaders even before President Ashraf Ghani secretly slipped away from the Presidential Palace on the weekend. Ghani's departure left a devastating vacuum that the Taliban who were surrounding the city strode in to fill.
Muttaqi had reached out to US-allied warlords prior to Kabul’s collapse seemingly starting the process of greater inclusivity in their government. The talks underway are aimed at bringing other non-Taliban leaders into the government, which Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen earlier said would be an “inclusive Afghan government.”
Shaheen earlier told AP a government will be announced after negotiations were completed.
Kabul airport reopens for military evac flights
On Tuesday, Kabul's international airport, the only way out for many, reopened to military evacuation flights under the watch of American troops. Stefano Pontecorvo, NATO's senior civilian representative to Afghanistan, posted video online showing the runway empty with US troops on the tarmac. What appeared to be a military cargo transport plane could be seen in the distance from behind a chain-link fence in the footage.
“I see airplanes landing and taking off,” he wrote on Twitter.
Overnight, flight-tracking data showed a US military plane taking off for Qatar, home to the US military Central Command's forward headquarters. A British military cargo plane also was flying to Kabul after taking off from Dubai. Other military aircraft remained in the air in the region.
Still, there were indications that the situation was still tenuous. The US Embassy in Kabul, now operating from the airport, urged Americans to register online for evacuations but not come to the airport before being contacted.
The German foreign ministry, meanwhile, said a first German military transport plane has landed in Kabul, but it could only take seven people on board before it had to depart again due to continued chaos at the airport.
A special military flight with some 120 Indian officials separately landed in Gujarat after taking off from Kabul’s main airport on Tuesday. Another flight made it off the ground Monday as well. Sweden’s foreign minister Ann Linde wrote on Twitter on Tuesday that the staff from the Swedish Embassy in Kabul had returned to Sweden. Japanese diplomats evacuated, and Spain sent military planes to pull people out as well.
Across Afghanistan, the International Committee of the Red Cross said thousands had been wounded in fighting as the Taliban swept across the country in recent days. However, in many places, security forces and politicians handed over their provinces and bases without a fight, likely fearing what would happen when the last American troops withdrew as planned at the end of the month.
Meanwhile, a resolute US president Joe Biden on Monday said he stood “squarely behind” his decision to withdraw American forces and acknowledged the “gut-wrenching” images unfolding in Kabul. Biden said he faced a choice between honouring a previously negotiated withdrawal agreement or sending thousands more troops back to begin a third decade of war.
“After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces,” Biden said in a televised address from the White House.