search
It's as if the last 20 years never happened

Western clothes gone, women too: Kabul wakes up to a new-old Taliban reality

With women hardly seen in the public sphere, residents say there is fear in the streets, though no sign yet of strict measures being re-introduced

Taliban fighters stand guard at an entrance gate outside the Interior Ministry in Kabul, on August 17, 2021. (Javed Tanveer/AFP)
Taliban fighters stand guard at an entrance gate outside the Interior Ministry in Kabul, on August 17, 2021. (Javed Tanveer/AFP)

KABUL, Afghanistan (AFP) — Gone are Western clothes favored by the fashion-conscious in the Afghan capital, with men on the streets now wearing traditional shalwar kameez.

And there are hardly any women to be seen.

“The fear is there,” said a shopkeeper on Tuesday, asking not to be named, after he opened his neighborhood provisions store.

Life was returning to a new normal in Kabul, as cautious residents ventured out of their homes to see what life would be like under the Taliban following their astonishing return to power at the weekend.

For some, it’s as if the last 20 years never happened.

Already there are signs that people are changing the way they live to accommodate the return of the new hardline Islamist regime — if not by direct order, then at least for self-preservation.

A general overview of a market place, flocked with local Afghan people at the Kote Sangi area of Kabul, on August 17, 2021, after Taliban seized control of the capital following the collapse of the Afghan government. (Hoshang Hashimi/AFP)

During their first stint in power — from 1996 until 2001, when they were ousted by the United States-led invasion in the wake of the September 11 attacks — the Taliban ruled with a strict interpretation of the Quran and sharia law.

A swift whipping across the back of the legs by cadres from the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice was common for those late at prayer times.

Public floggings, amputations of limbs for thieves, and even executions, were scheduled for Fridays — sometimes held at the national stadium.

A ban on mixed schools meant most girls could not get an education, and women were barred from working in scenarios where they may have contact with men.

There was no sign on Tuesday that such strict measures had been re-introduced — or even would be — but people were taking no chances.

“People are scared of the unknown,” another shopkeeper said.

“The Taliban are patrolling the city in small convoys. They don’t harass people, but of course, the people are scared.”

Taliban fighters on a pick-up truck move around a market area, flocked with local Afghan people at the Kote Sangi area of Kabul, on August 17, 2021, after Taliban seized control of the capital following the collapse of the Afghan government. (Hoshang Hashimi/AFP)

A sign of the new times was seen on the TV stations that proliferated during the Taliban’s absence.

State TV is showing mostly pre-recorded Islamic programs or announcements from Maulvi Ishaq Nizami — a man introduced as the head of Voice of Sharia, the Taliban media outlet.

Tolo TV, the private channel which thrived over the past two decades on a mix of Western-style game shows, soap operas and talent contests, has stopped most routine programming and is now showing repeats of a Turkish drama about the Ottoman empire.

They did, however, have a newscast with a female presenter interviewing a Taliban official.

On Tuesday, the Taliban announced a “general amnesty” for all government officials, and urged them to return to work.

“You should start your routine life with full confidence,” the announcement said — and some appeared to take the advice to heart, with white-capped traffic police re-appearing on the streets for the first time in days, although it was not as busy as usual.

Suhail Shaheen, one of the Taliban’s official spokesmen, repeated late Monday that women will not face any threat in the future.

A deserted road is pictured in Kabul, on August 17, 2021, as the Taliban moved quickly to restart the Afghan capital following their stunning takeover of Kabul and told government staff to return to work. (Wakil Kohsar/AFP)

“Their right to education is also protected,” he said, but the Taliban have generally been vague in pronouncements on how they would rule Afghanistan, apart from saying it would be in accordance with Islamic principles.

In one remarkable act of defiance, a handful of women protested briefly outside an entrance to the Green Zone, demanding the right to go back to their jobs as cooks or cleaners.

A truck full of Taliban fighters approached them and tried to shoo them away, but they stayed put until ordinary civilians persuaded them to leave.

Interaction with individual Taliban fighters on the streets has been mixed, however.

“Some have been friendly and give no trouble at all,” said a man trying to get to his office past a Taliban checkpoint.

“But others are tough… they push you around and shout at you for no reason.”

read more:
comments
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed