At Least 19 Killed, 24 Wounded In North Afghanistan Blast

Wounded Afghan men receive treatment at a hospital following a blast at a madrassa in Aybak city of Samangan province on November 30, 2022. At least 16 people were killed and 24 others wounded November 30 by a blast at a madrassa in Afghanistan’s northern city of Aybak, a doctor at a local hospital told AFP. (Photo by AFP)

 

At least 19 people were killed and 24 others wounded Wednesday by a blast at a madrassa in Afghanistan’s northern city of Aybak, a doctor at a local hospital told AFP.

There have been dozens of blasts and attacks targeting civilians since the Taliban returned to power in August last year, most claimed by the local chapter of the Islamic State (IS) group.

The doctor in Aybak, about 200 kilometres (130 miles) north of the capital Kabul, said the casualties were mostly youngsters.

“All of them are children and ordinary people,” he told AFP, asking not to be named.

A provincial official confirmed the blast at Al Jihad madrassa, an Islamic religious school, but could not provide casualty figures.

The Taliban, which frequently plays down casualty figures, said 10 students had died and “many others” were injured.

“Our detective and security forces are working quickly to identify the perpetrators of this unforgivable crime and punish them for their actions,” tweeted Interior Ministry spokesman Abdul Nafay Takor.

Images and video circulating on social media — which could not immediately be verified — showed Taliban fighters picking their way through bodies strewn across the floor of a building.

Prayer mats, shattered glass and other debris littered the scene.

The Aybak doctor said some critically wounded patients had been moved to better-equipped hospitals in Mazar-i-Sharif, which is about 120 kilometres away by road.

“Those who are here… were mostly hurt by shrapnel and blast waves. They had some shrapnel on their body and face,” he said.

‘Senseless attack’

The United States, which pulled troops out of Afghanistan last year after two decades, deplored the attack and the toll on children.

“The United States condemns this senseless attack against innocent civilians. All Afghan children have the right to go to school without fear,” Tom West, the US special representative on Afghanistan, wrote on Twitter.

Aybak is a small but ancient provincial capital that came to prominence as a caravan stopping post for traders during the fourth and fifth centuries when it was also an important Buddhist centre.

There has been a lull of a few weeks between major blasts targeting civilians in Afghanistan, although several Taliban fighters have been killed in isolated attacks.

In September, at least 54 people — including 51 girls and young women — were killed when a suicide bomber detonated a device at a hall in Kabul packed with hundreds of students sitting a practice test for university admissions.

No group claimed responsibility for that bombing, but the Taliban later blamed the Islamic State and said it had killed several ringleaders.

In May last year, before the Taliban’s return to power, at least 85 people — mainly girls — were killed and about 300 were wounded when three bombs exploded near their school in the neighbourhood

No group claimed responsibility, but a year earlier IS claimed a suicide attack on an educational centre in the area that killed 24.

The Taliban’s return to power brought an end to their insurgency, but IS continues to stage attacks across the country.

The Taliban movement — made up primarily of ethnic Pashtuns — has pledged to protect minorities and clamp down on security threats.

Amnesty International called the blast “disturbing”, adding in a tweet it was “yet another reminder to the world that the sufferings of Afghan people are far from over.”

Taliban Ban Women From Parks And Funfairs In Afghan Capital

This photograph taken on November 9, 2022, shows Taliban guards standing next to a ferry wheel ride at the Habibullah Zazai Park on the outskirts of Kabul. The Taliban have banned Afghan women from entering the capital’s public parks and funfairs, just months after ordering access to be segregated by gender. (Photo by Wakil KOHSAR / AFP)

 

The Taliban have banned Afghan women from entering the capital’s public parks and funfairs, just months after ordering access to be segregated by gender.

The new rule, introduced this week, further squeezes women out of an ever-shrinking public space that already sees them banned from traveling without a male escort and forced to wear a hijab or burqa whenever out of the home.

Schools for teenage girls have also been shut for over a year across most of the country.

“For the past 15 months, we tried our best to arrange and sort it out — and even specified the days,” said Mohammad Akif Sadeq Mohajir, spokesman for the Ministry for the Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue.

“But still, in some places — in fact, we must say in many places — the rules were violated,” he told AFP late Wednesday.

“There was mixing (of men and women), hijab was not observed, that’s why the decision has been taken for now.”

The news was met with dismay by women and park operators — who invested heavily in developing the facilities.

“There are no schools, no work… we should at least have a place to have fun,” said one mother, who asked to be identified only as Wahida, as she watched her children play in a park through the window of an adjoining restaurant.

“We are just bored and fed up with being at home all day, our minds are tired,” she told AFP.

At the next table, Raihana, 21, who is studying Islamic law at university, shared her disappointment after arriving at the park to spend the day with her sisters.

“We were very excited… we are tired of staying at home,” she said.

“Obviously, in Islam, it is allowed to go out and visit parks. When you have no freedom in your own country, then what does it mean to live here?”

‘Idle attractions’

A few kilometers away, the Ferris wheel and most of the other rides in Zazai Park — which offers a spectacular view of the city — have ground to a sudden halt because of a lack of business.

Before this week’s ban, it could accommodate hundreds of visitors on days when women brought their children for family gatherings.

On Fridays and public holidays, even more would flock to the park — one of the few attractions in the city.

On Wednesday, only a handful of men wandered nonchalantly through the complex.

Habib Jan Zazai, co-developer of the complex, fears he may have to close down a business that he has poured $11 million into, and which employs more than 250 people.

“Without women, the children will not come alone,” he told AFP.

He warned such edicts would discourage investment by foreigners or Afghans living abroad, as well as impact revenue collection.

“A government is run by taxes. If an investor is not paying tax, then how can they run?”

Mohammad Tamim, 20, sipping tea in the park during a visit from Kandahar, where he teaches at a madrassa, called the ban “bad news”.

“Every human psychologically needs to be entertained,” he said.

“Muslims need to be entertained — especially after 20 years of war.”

Two Russian Embassy Staff Among Six Killed In Kabul Suicide Attack

Taliban fighters (C) stand guard along a road near the Russian embassy after a suicide attack in Kabul on September 5, 2022. (Photo by Wakil KOHSAR / AFP)

 

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing near the Russian embassy in the Afghan capital Kabul on Monday that killed two staff from the diplomatic mission and four others.

In the first attack targeting a foreign mission since the Taliban seized power in August last year, the bomber struck near the entrance of the embassy’s consular section.

An IS fighter “blew up his suicide vest in a gathering attended by Russian employees” near the embassy, the jihadist group said in a statement via Telegram channels.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, speaking to journalists in Moscow, slammed the attack as “absolutely unacceptable.”

Afghanistan’s foreign ministry confirmed the deaths of two embassy staff.

Four Afghans waiting for consular services were also killed and several more wounded, Kabul police said.

Violence in Afghanistan has largely declined since the Taliban returned to power, but several bomb blasts — some targeting minority communities — have rocked the country in recent months, many claimed by the jihadist Islamic State group.

As with other recent attacks, heavy Taliban security quickly sealed off the area and prevented media from filming nearby.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said immediate steps were taken to boost security at the embassy, located on one of Kabul’s main roads and leading to the parliament building.

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Intelligence ‘Weakness’ 

The attack is sure to embarrass the Taliban leadership, which for months has encouraged foreign nations to reopen their Kabul missions, insisting security was guaranteed.

During the chaotic takeover of the country by the Taliban last year, the Russian embassy was one of the few to remain open, as most nations shut down and evacuated staff.

The Afghan foreign ministry said an investigation had been launched and authorities “will not allow the enemies to sabotage relations between both countries with such negative actions”.

Afghan security analyst Hekmatullah Hekmat said the attack showed the government’s “weakness” in gathering intelligence.

“If they can’t prevent such attacks in the heart of Kabul, then they can’t provide security in the countryside,” he told AFP.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “strongly” condemned the attack and expressed his condolences to the victims and their families in a statement.

The United Nations mission in Afghanistan also condemned the bombing.

“UNAMA stresses the need for the de facto authorities to take steps to ensure the safety and security of the people as well as diplomatic missions,” it tweeted.

On Friday, a suicide bomber struck one of western Afghanistan’s biggest mosques, killing at least 18 people, including its influential pro-Taliban imam. The cleric, Mujib ur Rahman Ansari, who had called for those who committed even the “smallest act” against the government to be beheaded, was killed in that attack in the city of Herat.

The attack against Ansari came despite authorities providing him with heavy security, including a bulletproof vehicle and bodyguards.

Several mosques across the country have been targeted this year, some in attacks claimed by IS.

At least 21 people were killed and dozens more wounded on August 17 when a blast ripped through a mosque packed with worshippers in Kabul.

IS has primarily targeted minority communities such as Shiites, Sufis and Sikhs.

While IS is a Sunni Islamist group like the Taliban, the two are bitter rivals and greatly diverge on ideological grounds.

Taliban officials claim that IS has been defeated, but experts say the group is the main security challenge for the country’s current Islamist rulers.

AFP

One Killed As Gunmen Storm Sikh Temple In Afghan Capital

People travel on the back of car with the coffin of a victim following an attack by gunmen at a Sikh temple in Kabul on June 18, 2022. Gunmen stormed a Sikh temple in the Afghan capital on June 18 morning, killing at least one member of the community and wounding seven more, the interior ministry said. Sahel ARMAN / AF

 

Gunmen stormed a Sikh temple in the Afghan capital on Saturday, killing at least one member of the community and wounding seven more, the interior ministry said.

Ministry spokesman Abdul Nafi Takor said the attackers lobbed at least one grenade when they entered the temple, setting off a blaze in the complex.

Minutes later, a car bomb was detonated in the area but caused no casualties, he added.

“One of our Sikh brothers has been killed and seven others (were) wounded in the attack,” Takor said in a statement.

Two attackers were killed in an operation to secure the temple following the raid, he said, with one Taliban fighter also killed.

While the number of bombings across Afghanistan has dropped since the Taliban seized power in August, several fatal attacks have hit the country in recent months.

“I heard gunshots and blasts,” Gurnam Singh, a Sikh community leader, told AFP from close to the scene of Saturday’s attack soon after the raid began.

“Generally at that time in the morning we have several Sikh devotees who come to offer prayers at the gurdwara (temple complex).”

Footage posted on social media after the attack showed shattered pillars and walls in the temple’s main prayer hall, with debris scattered across the floor.

A section of a building near the temple also caught fire, an AFP correspondent reported from the area.

The windows of several residential buildings were broken from the impact of the car bomb. Nearby streets were littered with shattered glass.

Taliban forces cordoned off the neighbourhood, preventing journalists from speaking with residents and witnesses.

 

Members of the Sikh community (C) walk past a damaged building following a gunmen attack at a Sikh temple in Kabul on June 18, 2022. Gunmen stormed a Sikh temple in the Afghan capital on June 18 morning, killing at least one member of the community and wounding seven more, the interior ministry said. Ahmad SAHEL ARMAN / AFP

 

Repeated attacks

A Taliban fighter deployed in the area told AFP that some Sikhs in the temple at the time of the attack managed to flee from a back door.

Some of Kabul’s other Sikh temples were closed for security reasons as reports of the attack spread.

No group has so far claimed responsibility for the raid.

The attack came days after an Indian delegation visited Kabul to discuss the distribution of humanitarian aid from India to Afghanistan.

Afghan and Indian media reports said the delegation also discussed with Taliban officials the possibility of reopening the Indian embassy.

New Delhi, which had close relations with the previous US-backed Afghan government, shut its mission in Kabul and evacuated all its diplomatic and other staff when the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan on August 15.

Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar in a tweet condemned Saturday’s “cowardly attack” on the temple.

The number of Sikhs living in Afghanistan has dwindled to around 200, compared to about half a million in the 1970s.

Most of those who remain are traders involved in selling herbal medicines and electronic goods brought from India.

The community has faced repeated attacks over the years. At least 25 people were killed in March 2020 when gunmen stormed another Sikh temple in Kabul.

The jihadist group Islamic State claimed responsibility for that attack, which forced many Sikhs to leave the country even before the Taliban returned to power.

IS has a history of targeting Afghan Sikhs, Hindus and other members of minority communities — including Muslim Shiites and Sufis.

A string of bombings hit the country during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ended in Afghanistan on April 30, some of them claimed by IS.

IS is a Sunni Islamist group, like the Taliban, but the two are bitter rivals.

The Taliban have pursued an Afghanistan free from foreign forces, whereas IS want an Islamic caliphate stretching from Turkey to Pakistan and beyond.

At Least 16 Dead As IS-Claimed Blasts Rock Afghan Cities


A wounded Afghan man receives treatment at a hospital after he got injured in a bomb blast at the Shiite Seh Dokan Mosque in Mazar-i-Sharif on April 21, 2022. AFP

 

At least 16 people were killed in two Afghan cities on Thursday by bomb blasts that were claimed by the Islamic State group (IS).

Since Taliban fighters seized control of Afghanistan last year after ousting the US-backed government, the number of bombings has fallen but the jihadist and Sunni IS has continued with attacks — often against Shiite targets.

Earlier this week, at least six people were killed in twin blasts that hit a boys’ school in a Shiite neighbourhood of Kabul.

On Thursday, 12 worshippers were killed in a blast at a Shiite mosque in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, said Ahmad Zia Zindani, spokesman for the provincial public health department in Balkh.

He added that 58 people were wounded, including 32 in serious condition.

Grisly images posted to social media showed victims of the attack being carried to hospital from Seh Dokan mosque.

“Blood and fear are everywhere,” Zindani told AFP, adding “people were screaming” while seeking news of their relatives at the hospital.

“Many residents were also coming to donate blood,” he said.

The blast occurred as worshippers were offering midday prayers during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

In a statement, IS said “the soldiers of the caliphate managed to get a booby-trapped bag” inside the mosque, detonating it from afar.

In a separate blast on Thursday in the city of Kunduz, at least four people were killed and 18 wounded. Police spokesman Obaidullah Abedi told AFP that a bicycle bomb exploded near a vehicle carrying mechanics working for the Taliban.

Late on Thursday, IS claimed that attack too but said its fighters set off an explosive device on a bus carrying Kunduz airport employees.

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‘Religious, Ethnic Hostility’ 


A wounded Afghan man receives treatment at a hospital after he got injured in a bomb blast at the Shiite Seh Dokan Mosque in Mazar-i-Sharif on April 21, 2022. AFP

 

Taliban authorities vowed to punish those responsible for the bloodshed.

“The forces of the Islamic Emirate have good experience in eliminating the wicked elements, and soon the culprits of these crimes will be found and punished harshly,” government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Twitter.

Shiite Afghans, who are mostly from the Hazara community that makes up between 10 and 20 percent of the country’s 38 million people, have long been the target of the IS, who consider them heretics.

“There is religious and ethnic hostility towards the Shiites and Hazaras in particular,” said prominent Shiite leader Mohammad Mohaqqiq.

“All extremist groups that are in Afghanistan, be it IS or even Taliban, have shown this hostility.”

No group has yet to claim the deadly attack on a boys’ school in Kabul on Tuesday, which also wounded more than 25.

“Systematic targeted attacks on crowded schools & mosques call for immediate investigation, accountability and end to such human rights violations,” tweeted Richard Bennett, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Afghanistan on human rights.

Taliban officials insist their forces have defeated IS, but analysts say the jihadist group is a key security challenge.

Since seizing power, the Taliban have regularly raided suspected IS hideouts in eastern Nangarhar province.

In May last year at least 85 people — mainly girl students — were killed and about 300 wounded when three bombs exploded near their school in the Shiite dominated Dasht-e-Barchi neighbourhood of Kabul.

No group claimed responsibility for that, but in October 2020 IS admitted a suicide attack on an educational centre in the same area that killed 24 people, including students.

In May 2020, the group was blamed for a bloody attack on a maternity ward of a hospital in the same neighbourhood that killed 25 people, including new mothers.

AFP

‘Open The Schools’: Afghan Girls Protest In Kabul

Afghan women and girls take part in a protest in front of the Ministry of Education in Kabul on March 26, 2022, demanding that high schools be reopened for girls. Ahmad SAHEL ARMAN / AFP

 

About two dozen girls and women chanting “open the schools” protested in the Afghan capital Saturday against the Taliban’s decision to shut their secondary schools just hours after re-opening them this week.

Thousands of jubilant girls across Afghanistan had flocked to learning institutions on Wednesday — the date the education ministry had set for classes to resume.

But just hours into the first day, the ministry announced a shock policy reversal that left youngsters saying they felt betrayed and foreign governments expressing outrage.

“Open the schools! Justice, justice!” chanted protesters Saturday, some carrying school books as they gathered at a city square in Kabul.

They held banners that said: “Education is our fundamental right, not a political plan” as they marched for a short distance and later dispersed as Taliban fighters arrived at the scene.

The protest was the first held by women in weeks after the Taliban rounded up the ringleaders of initial demonstrations held after they returned to power in August.

The Islamists have not given a clear reason for their decision, which came after a meeting late Tuesday of senior officials in the southern city of Kandahar, the Taliban’s de facto power centre and spiritual heartland.

It followed months of work by some foreign countries on a plan to support the payment of teachers’ wages.

Afghan secondary school girls have now been out of education for more than seven months.

“Even the Prophet (Mohammed) said everyone has the right to education, but the Taliban have snatched this right from us,” said youngster Nawesa at the demonstration, which was organised by two women’s rights groups.

“The Taliban can not oppress the women of Afghanistan,” said another protester, Laila Basim.

Since returning to power on August 15 the Taliban have rolled back two decades of gains made by the country’s women, who have been squeezed out of many government jobs, barred from travelling alone, and ordered to dress according to a strict interpretation of the Koran.

The Taliban had promised a softer version of the harsh Islamist rule that characterised their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001.

But many restrictions have still been imposed — if not at the national level then implemented locally at the whim of regional officials.

Some Afghan women initially pushed back against the Taliban’s curbs, holding small protests where they demanded the right to education and work.

But the Taliban soon rounded up the ringleaders, holding them incommunicado while denying that they had been detained.

Since their release, most have gone silent.

World Bank To Dole Out Over $1bn Aid To Afghanistan

In this file photo, people evacuated from Kabul Afghanistan wait to board a bus that will take them to a refugee processing center at the Dulles International Airport on August 25, 2021, in Dulles, Virginia.  Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images/AFP

 

The World Bank on Tuesday announced more than $1 billion in humanitarian aid for Afghanistan, stating the money will go to UN agencies and international NGOs while remaining “outside the control” of the country’s Taliban rulers.

The reallocation from the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF) follows the $280 million in ARTF funds disbursed last December and is aimed at supporting the humanitarian response over the critical winter months.

The funds, to be delivered in the form of grants, aim “to support the delivery of essential basic services, protect vulnerable Afghans, help preserve human capital and key economic and social services and reduce the need for humanitarian assistance in the future,” the Washington-based lender said in a statement.

The bank suspended its aid to Kabul late last August after the hardline Islamist Taliban swept back into power.

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ARTF is a multi-donor fund that coordinates international aid to improve the lives of millions of Afghans. It is administered by the World Bank on behalf of donor partners.

Until the Taliban took over, the ARTF was the largest source of development funding for Afghanistan, financing up to 30 percent of the government’s budget.

Because the World Bank is unable to provide money directly to the Taliban regime — which is not recognized by the international community — it has redirected the funds to organizations like the UN children’s agency UNICEF in response to the humanitarian crisis.

Afghanistan’s population has faced food shortages and mounting poverty since the Taliban took over.

The objective of the new aid is to “protect vulnerable Afghans (and) help preserve human capital and key economic and social services,” the World Bank said.

AFP

Taliban Govt Resumes Issuing Afghan Passports In Kabul

Taliban fighters stand guard at a checkpoint on a street in Kabul on December 17, 2021. Mohd RASFAN / AFP

 

Afghanistan’s Taliban authorities said Saturday they will resume issuing passports in Kabul, giving hope to citizens who feel threatened living under the Islamists’ rule.

Thousands of Afghans have also applied for new travel documents to escape a growing economic and humanitarian crisis described by the UN as an “avalanche of hunger”.

The authorities will start issuing the travel documents from Sunday at Kabul’s passport office, Alam Gul Haqqani, the head of the passport department in the interior ministry, told reporters.

The Taliban stopped issuing passports shortly after their August 15 return to power, as tens of thousands of people scrambled to Kabul’s only airport in a bid to catch any international flight that could evacuate them.

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In October the authorities reopened the passport office in Kabul only to suspend workdays later as a flood of thousands of applications caused the biometric equipment used there to break down.

“All the technical issues have now been resolved,” Haqqani said, adding that initially travel documents will be given to those who had already applied before the office suspended work.

New applications will be accepted from January 10, he said.

Issuing passports is seen as a test of the Taliban’s commitment to the international community to allow eligible people to leave amid the growing humanitarian crisis.

The Taliban are pressing donors to restore billions of dollars in aid that was suspended when the previous Western-backed regime imploded in the final stages of a US military withdrawal.

The abrupt withholding of aid amounts to an “unprecedented” shock for an economy already battered by drought and decades of war, according to the United Nations Development Programme.

The crisis has forced many in the capital to sell household possessions to buy food for their families.

International flights, mainly to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, have slowly resumed at Kabul airport after the facility was trashed in August when crowds of people scrambled to evacuate.

Taliban Build Legal System In Afghanistan

In this file photo taken on November 26, 2008, Pakistan’s Taliban commander Latif Mehsud (C), a close aide to the former chief of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Hakimullah Mehsud, sits on a harmed vehicle in Mamouzai area. PHOTO: A MAJEED / AFP

 

A small carpeted room serves as a makeshift jail for 12 “criminals” who are awaiting Taliban justice, caught in the legal system which the Islamists are building at the heart of their new Afghan regime.

None of the prisoners being held on the ground floor of the Taliban headquarters in Panjwai district in southern Afghanistan have yet seen the local judge, who is busy in another area.

Until he arrives, the Taliban fighters of the unit in Kandahar province — left to their own whims and understanding of the group’s interpretation of Islamic law — represent the entirety of the justice system.

“They will keep me here until I can pay back the person I owe money to,” said Haj Baran, a 41-year-old businessman arrested three days earlier for an outstanding debt.

“We have a good system of judgement with the Islamic law of the Taliban,” he told AFP, as a guard watched closely.

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After a nearly 20-year insurgency, the Taliban took power in Afghanistan in August by force.

But they long ago placed their version of justice at the centre of their ideology, and have “made the courts a means of conquering power”, says Adam Bazco, a researcher who conducted a field investigation on the Taliban judicial system from 2010 to 2016.

From 2004 on, in areas the Taliban controlled, “people were turning to them because of growing discontent with the interference of Western groups in their land disputes and a judicial system that appeared increasingly corrupt and nepotistic”, Bazco says.

In the context of war, he explains, the severity of the Taliban punishments was welcomed by some.

They were known for their harshness — but also their impartiality, speed and predictability.

Three months after the Taliban seized power, however, they are still struggling to implement that system across the country.

 

– ‘I did nothing wrong’ –

At the nearby central prison in the city of Kandahar, the deputy director Mansour Maulavi brandishes a length of electric cable as a whip as he shows off the fetid barracks.

One wing houses 1,000 drug addicts going through forced withdrawal, he says. Now 200 “criminals” are also being held there.

“It is better for Islamic law to decide” who is a criminal, says Maulavi, who used to run the region’s clandestine Taliban prison. Under the previous ineffective and often corrupt system, “they didn’t know.”

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid (top L) and Intelligence Service spokesman, Khalil Hamraz (top R) participate in a press conference at the government media and information center in Kabul, on November 10, 2021. PHOTO: Hector RETAMAL / AFP

 

Mohammad Naeem, sitting cross-legged in the prison yard, is among those awaiting judgement.

He was arrested two months ago while at home with his wife and a 14-year-old girl he said he wanted to marry.

“The girl agreed but the parents didn’t,” the 35-year-old says, explaining that the parents called the Taliban to complain of sexual assault.

“But I didn’t touch the girl, they can do tests and check,” Naeem says.

If he is found guilty of having sexual relations outside marriage he risks being condemned to death by stoning.

“I just want to be judged according to Islamic law, because I did nothing wrong,” he says.

 

– Teaching a lesson –

In some cases since the takeover, the Taliban judges — wary of losing support — have tried to avoid being too harsh.

Bazco recalls an infamous case from the Taliban’s previous regime in the 1990s in which a wall was pushed onto a man convicted of sodomy, killing him.

Now, he says, such cases “do not represent the daily life under Taliban justice”.

Instead, Afghanistan’s masters say they are seeking international respectability.

“If someone takes it upon himself to kill a person, even if it is one of our men, it is a crime and we will bring him before the courts and he will have to face the law,” government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said after three guests were recently killed at a wedding by Taliban fighters over a dispute about music.

And yet, the new government has already resurrected some of the most feared instruments of deterrence from its first regime — such as the dreaded religious police, and the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Suppression of Vice.

The Taliban also continue to carry out violent punishments.

In the western city of Herat on September 25, they hung the bodies of four men accused of kidnapping from cranes to “teach a lesson” to others, officials said.

 

– Words vs deeds –

The Taliban are walking a thin line between “their moral vision that can go to the worst extremes” and a “willingness to give pledges, to demonstrate a functioning bureaucracy and knowledge of norms, including on the issue of human rights”, Bazco says.

That they are discussing such things at all — even if there is still a huge gap between words and deeds — is “the biggest evolution of the movement” since their previous regime, he says.

Pul-e-Charkhi, Kabul’s largest prison, is mostly deserted since the Islamists released tens of thousands of criminals in the final hours of their battle to oust the US-backed government.

Now a Taliban official, Asadullah Shahnan, is preparing to reopen the facility.

Shahnan himself spent six years in Pul-e-Charkhi as a prisoner under the previous government, which continued to exercise the death penalty.

He remembers how, on execution days, prisoners were brought to the windows, forced to watch.

“We won’t do that,” he says.

AFP

Beauty Salon: A Women’s Haven In The Taliban’s Kabul

In this photograph taken on October 18, 2021, a beautician applies make-up to a customer at a beauty salon in Kabul. It is one of the last places in Kabul where women can meet outside their households, a bubble of freedom and even frivolity away from the gaze of men.
Maryke Vermaak / AFP

 

It is one of the last places in Kabul where women can meet outside their households, a bubble of freedom and even frivolity away from the gaze of men.

Mohadessa has kept her beauty salon open despite threats from Afghanistan’s new rulers.

Since the Taliban seized Kabul in mid-August, many women have disappeared from public spaces, driven into private areas out of fear and sometimes very real threats.

But Mohadessa’s beauty salon has, for now, remained a place where women can relax among themselves outside the household and share their woes — or forget them in favour of fun and fashion.

The oasis of feminine industry provides income for the staff and moments of indulgence for the clients, but its days may be numbered.

“We don’t want to give up and stop working,” the 32-year-old entrepreneur told AFP over the hubbub of women getting ready for a wedding celebration.

“We love that we have a job, and it is necessary for women to work in Afghan society -– many of them are the breadwinners for their family.”

Customers are dropped off outside and whisked past posters advertising fashion and beauty brands that are now blotted out with white paint.

They quickly disappear into the shop through a heavy curtain.

Once inside, the women shed their headscarves and outer garments and their excited voices compete with the hum of hair-dryers as they choose their new looks.

Screaming Mob

The last time the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, between 1996 and the US-led intervention of 2001, women were obliged to wear the all-covering burqa.

Under the Islamist movement’s interpretation of Islamic law, beauty salons were banned outright.

Just having painted nails meant a woman could risk having her fingers cut off.

But since the Taliban returned to the capital and declared their Islamic Emirate, the movement has been at pains to present a more liberal face to the world.

Keen to secure international finance to head off economic disaster that could undermine their war gains, they have not rushed to reimpose restrictions on daily life.

That is not to say Mohadessa has not received threats.

A Taliban mob has shouted abuse outside her shop, but she has made use of the legal limbo to continue.

“I can say that the women at this salon are courageous because they come to work with fear,” she said.

“Every day they open the salon, they come in, and they continue to work, despite this fear.”

Message of Resistance

On the day AFP visited, around 30 women had braved the climate of fear to come to the shop and prepare for a wedding, where the sexes are traditionally segregated during celebrations.

The women were clearly enjoying the rare chance to dress up and pamper themselves, with elaborate hair and eyelash decorations complementing a colourful make-up palette.

The bride’s sister, English teacher Farkhunda, gazes at the results of an hour-long makeover.

“Yes, it’s nice. It’s beautiful. It’s my first real day out since the end of August,” she said cheerfully.

But under the splash of glittery eye-shadow, one of her pupils is immobile, taken during a gun and bomb attack when she was a teenager.

“You see my eye? I lost it on my way to school when the Taliban attacked us. But I am not scared of them. I don’t want to talk about them. Today is for celebration,” she said.

The light-hearted mood is as fragile as the delicate bejewelled hair bands. At every movement of the curtain hiding the door to the outside world, the women stiffen and briefly fall silent.

But none of the clients want to tone down their look, a stylised, ultra-feminine rebuke to the Taliban’s looming curbs on free expression: dense foundation, long false lashes, dazzling colours and a China doll finish.

And 22-year-old Marwa, not her real name, with her asymmetric haircut exposing an ear dotted with piercings and decorative chains, sees a message of “resistance” in the stylings.

“We are not people with blue burkas. We are not people with black burkas. That’s not who we are,” she said.

‘Knife to My Throat’

Some of the women dream of leaving, others of change.

Farkhunda hopes she can get back to work while Mohadessa, determined to stay open, fears for her life.

She showed AFP a letter she believes comes from the Taliban’s new Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, warning her to close down.

Her response: “Until they come and put a knife to my throat, I’m staying here.”

‘Just Shoot Me’: Afghan Star Recalls Surreal Kabul Escape

Afghan pop star Aryana Sayeed poses during an interview in Istanbul on September 8, 2021. – . (Photo by Ozan KOSE / AFP)

 

Afghan pop star Aryana Sayeed recalls asking her fiance one thing as they snuck into Kabul’s chaotic airport after the Taliban moved in: “Don’t let them take me away alive”.

Aryana, who brags of 1.4 million Instagram followers and is often likened to US megastar Kim Kardashian, had drawn the religious conservatives’ ire for her women’s rights activism and figure-hugging clothes.

A singer and former judge of a popular Afghan music talent show, the 36-year-old could not walk down the streets of Kabul without attracting a gawking crowd of selfie-snapping fans.

This made her escape from the city she loved that much more surreal.

Her first attempt on August 15 — the day the Islamists entered Kabul while US forces scrambled to evacuate foreigners and some Afghans after 20 years of war — failed because the plane never took off.

The stakes could hardly be higher when she made her second attempt the following day, with Kalashnikov-toting fighters surrounding the airport and allied forces trying to control the desperate crowds at its gates.

Her fiance and manager, Hasib Sayed, was communicating with her by walkie-talkie in a second car.

“I said to him, you know Hasib… if I am about to be taken away alive, just shoot me. Just shoot me in the head,” she told AFP at her swank Istanbul apartment.

“That was the only thing I was scared of. I wasn’t scared of dying or anything.”

 

Afghan pop star Aryana Sayeed recalls asking her fiance one thing as they snuck into Kabul’s chaotic airport after the Taliban moved in: “Don’t let them take me away alive”.
 (Photo by Ozan KOSE / AFP)

 

‘Women were fainting’

Aryana knew she was taking a risk when she launched her own fashion brand in Kabul just as US forces were speeding up their withdrawal and the Taliban were retaking huge swathes of the country in July.

“I always wanted to give hope to the future, so I decided to invest,” she recalled.

Those dreams were a distant memory when she found herself with a little boy she did not even know sitting on her lap, her face veiled, trying to pass off as a normal family as they passed Taliban checkpoints en route to the airport.

“We made up a story as well. I remember we told this little kid if we get stopped, you have to tell them I am your mum and my name is not Aryana. It’s Freshta,” she said.

Her fiance reached the gate first, pushing through the crowds.

“People were pushing each other, there were children, little babies, the women were fainting because of a lack of oxygen and space,” she said.

US soldiers initially refused to let them through, giving priority to American citizens, but a translator recognised Hasib and told the soldiers that he was the fiance of a big star whose life was in jeopardy.

 

Afghan pop star Aryana, who brags 1.4 million Instagram followers and is often likened to US megastar Kim Kardashian, had drawn the religious conservatives’ ire for her women’s rights activism and figure-hugging clothes. (Photo by Ozan KOSE / AFP)

 

‘Not the new Taliban’

The couple made their way to Doha, Kuwait and the US, eventually returning to the flat they had in Istanbul.

The women she has left behind, Aryana says with bittersweet pride, are more educated and self-aware than those the Taliban forced out of school and work when they last ruled Afghanistan in 1996-2001.

“The women of Afghanistan are not the same women they were 20 years ago,” she said.

“They are definitely not going to accept this,” she said of fundamentalist Islam.

Just as important now, Aryana said, was for governments to understand that the Taliban today were the same as those who ruled before the September 11, 2001 terror attacks led to the US-led invasion.

“I hope the world realises this is not the changed or the new Taliban,” she said.

‘Thirsty for my blood’

Aryana has dedicated more than half her music to Afghan women. But the risk to her own life was simply too great to stay behind.

Even before Kabul fell, she said she felt “like a prisoner” because fundamentalists viewed her as a threat.

“If the Taliban are around, there is definitely no space for me because the Taliban are thirsty for my blood,” she said.

But while inspired by global pop icons such as Jennifer Lopez and Beyonce, Aryana draws a line at direct comparisons.

“Imagine being a judge on a musical show and you have to wear an armoured jacket not to be killed. I don’t think any of them has lived that,” she said.

“I think I have had a very different life from them,” she mused. “I wish I could have a life like them, but how can you blame your fortune for being born in a war-torn country like Afghanistan?”

First Evacuation Flight From Kabul Since US Exit Lands In Doha

Evacuees from Afghanistan arrive at Hamad International Airport in Qatar’s capital Doha on the first flight carrying foreigners out of the Afghan capital since the conclusion of the US withdrawal last month, September 9, 2021. (Photo by KARIM JAAFAR / AFP)

 

Around 100 passengers including Americans arrived in Doha after flying from Kabul airport Thursday, AFP correspondents said, the first flight ferrying out foreigners since a US-led evacuation ended.

Doha, a major transit point for Afghan refugees, has said it worked with Turkey to swiftly resume operations at Kabul’s airport to allow the flow of people and aid.

AFP correspondents said they saw passengers disembark at Qatar’s Hamad International Airport, marking the first successful flight of its type since the chaotic airlift of more than 120,000 people concluded last month.

The Qatar Airways Boeing 777 had “around 113” passengers including Americans, Canadians, Germans and Ukrainians, with all passengers due to be received at a compound for Afghan refugees in Doha, a source with knowledge of the operation told AFP.

Sources had earlier said that as many as 200 people were aboard.

A turbaned man with a suitcase was followed by three veiled, masked women off the plane and onto the tarmac at Qatar’s civilian airport, while other arrivals struggled with luggage.

The passengers who included several children, some of whom filmed their arrival, were directed to an airport bus to begin the next leg of their journey to a Qatari holding facility before returning to their home countries.

Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani praised the Taliban for allowing the flight.

“We managed to fly the first plane with passengers… we thank (the Taliban) for their cooperation,” Sheikh Mohammed said in televised remarks.

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“This is actually what we are expecting from the Taliban, to see these positive statements translated into action,” said Sheikh Mohammed.

“I think this is a positive message, that we are supporting.”

In the days that followed the Taliban’s blitz, Kabul airport became a tragic symbol of desperation among Afghans terrified of the militants’ return to power.

Thousands of people crowded around its gates daily, and some even clinged to jets as they took off.

More than 100 people were killed, including 13 US troops, in a suicide attack on August 26 near the airport that was claimed by the Islamic State group’s local chapter.

Qatar’s special envoy to Afghanistan, Mutlaq al-Qahtani, called it a “historic day” for the airport.

“We are grateful to our Qatari friends for facilitating a flight carrying 13 British nationals from Kabul to safety in Doha today,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement.

“Qatar has acted as the central intermediary between the Taliban and the international community in recent years.”

Numerous countries, including Britain and the US, have relocated their embassies from Kabul to Doha in the aftermath of the takeover.

AFP