The Taliban hung the bodies of four kidnappers from cranes after killing them during a shootout in Afghanistan’s western city of Herat on Saturday, a senior official said.
Herat province’s deputy governor Mawlawi Shir Ahmad Muhajir said the men’s corpses were displayed in various public areas on the same day as the killings to teach a “lesson” that kidnapping will not be tolerated.
Graphic images posted to social media showed bloody bodies on the back of a pick-up truck while a crane hoisted one man up.
A crowd of people looked on as armed Taliban fighters gathered around the vehicle.
Another video showed a man suspended from a crane at a major roundabout in Herat with a sign on his chest reading: “Abductors will be punished like this”.
The display across several squares in the city is the most high-profile public punishment since the Taliban swept to power last month, and is a sign the Islamist hardliners will adopt fearsome measures silimiar to their previous rule from 1996 to 2001.
Muhajir said security forces were informed a businessman and his son had been abducted in the city on Saturday morning.
Police shut down the roads out of the city and the Taliban stopped the men at a checkpoint, where “an exchange of fire happened”, he said.
“As a result of a few minutes of fighting, one of our Mujahideen was wounded and all four kidnappers were killed,” Muhajir said in a recorded statement sent to AFP.
“We are the Islamic Emirate. No one should harm our nation. No one should kidnap,” he said in the video clip.
Muhajir added that that before Saturday’s incident there had been other kidnappings in the city, and the Taliban rescued a boy.
One kidnapper was killed and three others were arrested, he said, although in another case the Taliban “failed and the abductors were able to make money”.
“It saddened us a lot because while we are in Herat, our people are being abducted,” Muhajir said.
“In order to be a lesson for other kidnappers not to kidnap or harass anyone, we hung them in the squares of the city and made this clear to everyone that anyone who steals or abducts or does any action against our people will be punished.”
The international community faces a growing dilemma over whether to recognise the Taliban as the rulers of Afghanistan, weighing distaste on the vision of the Islamist group with the need for stability.
Since the August 15 takeover of Kabul by the Taliban, which dislodged the pro-Western government, world powers have opened up channels of communication with the group but made clear this does not mean recognition.
The Taliban themselves have begun to indicate impatience on the issue of recognition, which would allow its officials to represent the country in international organisations, funds to be unblocked for the cash-starved economy.
The debate burst into the open at the UN General Assembly where the Taliban have asked to speak on behalf of Afghanistan, but the ambassador of the former ousted government claims to represent his country.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas rejected the demand of Afghanistan’s new rulers, saying a Taliban “show” would serve no purpose and “concrete deeds” were needed.
“At some point, the Taliban will have to make a choice between money and normalisation, or absolute isolation,” added a European diplomat, who asked not to be named.
“We will see if it works. As of now, it is not working.”
Even countries far less troubled than the West by the ousting of the former government, or even supportive of the Taliban, have been in no rush to recognise Kabul’s new rulers.
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said the Taliban needed to be more sensitive and take account of international opinion, an attitude shared by Qatar, which has long served as a mediator.
Even China, which has expressed a willingness to work with the Taliban and could scent an advantage by being among the first to recognise them, has yet to do so.
Western countries are alarmed that the first weeks of Taliban rule have not augured well for life under a group notorious for its brutal, oppressive rule from 1996 to 2001.
There is particular concern for the rights of women and girls who have not yet been allowed back to school although the Taliban have vowed this will be “as soon as possible”.
But after its “painful defeat” in Afghanistan, the West is in no position to dictate conditions, said Markus Kaim, Senior fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.
“Western statements about how many levers they have on the Taliban and how effective they are only camouflage their own powerlessness and perpetuate the imperial hubris that has been part of the problem in Afghanistan,” he said.
The West, however, is not without tools to put pressure on Kabul.
Many Afghan bank accounts held abroad have been frozen. And from August 18, the International Monetary Fund suspended disbursements to Afghanistan due to the “lack of clarity within the international community regarding recognition of a government”.
The issue is all the more acute as the country risks humanitarian disaster this winter — the Taliban themselves were surprised at their swift victory and key central functions of the Afghan state have still not been restored.
Amina Khan, director for the centre for Afghanistan, Middle East and Africa at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad, told AFP that the immediate priority for the Taliban was recognition by powers in its part of the world.
“The Taliban are putting their bets more on regional countries, for development, aid and political recognition. They want to work with China, Russia, Iran,” she said.
She added that in contrast to the Taliban’s previous spell in charge in the 1990s, there was now more strategic convergence among neighbours and nearby countries on the issue of recognition.
“The region has an appetite to play a larger role in Afghanistan and engage with the Taliban,” she said.
But she added that the group will have to “deliver on their promises”, notably pledges that Afghanistan will not become a base for forces hostile to neighbouring countries.
The Taliban said on Tuesday Afghan girls will be allowed to return to school “as soon as possible”, after their movement faced international fury over their effective exclusion of women and girls from education and work.
The hardliners’ spokesman meanwhile announced the remaining members of Afghanistan’s all-male government, weeks after the militants seized Kabul in an offensive that shocked the world.
The Taliban were notorious for their brutal, oppressive rule from 1996 to 2001 when women were largely barred from work and school, including being banned from leaving their homes unless accompanied by a male relative.
One month after seizing power and pledging a softer version of their previous regime, the Islamists have incrementally stripped away at Afghans’ freedoms.
“The work is continuing over the issues of education and work of women and girls,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said at a press conference, saying schools will reopen “as soon as possible”, without providing a timeframe.
“More time is needed… instructions on how to deal with their work, their services, and their education are needed because the system has changed and an Islamic system is in place.”
At the weekend, girls and female teachers were excluded from returning to secondary school, while boys and male teachers were ordered back to the classroom.
The Taliban have also slashed women’s access to work, with officials previously telling them to stay at home for their own security until segregation under the group’s restrictive interpretation of sharia law can be implemented.
The group imposed a harsh interpretation of sharia law during their last rule and this time round have said progress in women’s rights will be respected “within the framework of Islamic law”.
Many women however are deeply suspicious about the Taliban’s pledges.
“This happened last time. They kept saying they would allow us to return to work, but it never happened,” a woman teacher told AFP on Monday.
No Female Ministers
New additions to the Taliban’s government were also announced on Tuesday, with businessmen and engineers added to the line-up, as well as a doctor appointed as health minister.
The Taliban had promised an inclusive administration, but no women were added on Tuesday, and it remains largely drawn from loyalist ranks.
A member of the Hazara community, which is majority Shiite and has long been persecuted by the Sunni Taliban — joined the health ministry as a deputy minister.
Although still marginalised, Afghan women have fought for and gained basic rights in the past 20 years, becoming lawmakers, judges, pilots, and police officers, though mostly limited to large cities.
There was no mention in the press conference of the recently shut down women’s affairs ministry, with its offices replaced with a department notorious for enforcing strict religious doctrine during the Taliban’s last rule.
Women have been at the forefront of several small, scattered protests across the country — a show of resistance unthinkable under the last regime — demanding to be included in public life.
The Taliban have attempted to shut them down, slapping rules on any form of assembly.
The Taliban now face the colossal task of transitioning from insurgent force to ruling Afghanistan, an aid-dependent country whose economic troubles have only deepened since the Islamists seized power and outside funding was frozen.
Many government employees have not been paid for months, with food prices soaring.
“We are working on a mechanism for the payment of salaries. Salaries will be paid to all the employees in coming days,” Mujahid said.
While many Afghans are relieved that the Taliban victory has brought an end to the ongoing fighting, airstrikes, and bomb attacks, the Islamic State group branch of Afghanistan remains a security risk.
It has claimed a handful of bomb attacks in their former stronghold of Nangarhar province, as well as a devastating suicide blast that killed scores of people outside Kabul airport during the chaotic US-led evacuation.
The Taliban’s effective ban on women working sank in on Monday, sparking rage over the dramatic loss of rights after millions of female teachers and girls were barred from secondary school education.
After pledging a softer version of their brutal and repressive regime of the 1990s, the Islamic fundamentalists are tightening their control of women’s freedoms one month after seizing power.
“I may as well be dead,” said one woman, who was sacked from her senior role at the ministry of foreign affairs.
“I was in charge of a whole department and there were many women working with me… now we have all lost our jobs,” she told AFP, insisting she not be identified for fear of reprisals.
The acting mayor of the capital Kabul has said any municipal jobs currently held by women would be filled by men.
That came after the education ministry ordered male teachers and students back to secondary school at the weekend, but made no mention of the country’s millions of women educators and girl pupils.
The Taliban on Friday also appeared to shut down the former government’s ministry of women’s affairs and replaced it with one that earned notoriety during their first stint in power for enforcing religious doctrine.
While the country’s new rulers have not issues a formal policy outright banning women from working, directives by individual officials have amounted to their exclusion from the workplace.
Many Afghan women fear they will never find meaningful employment.
A new Taliban government announced two weeks ago had no women members.
Although still marginalised, Afghan women have fought for and gained basic rights in the past 20 years, becoming lawmakers, judges, pilots and police officers, though mostly limited to large cities.
Hundreds of thousands have entered the workforce — a necessity in some cases as many women were widowed or now support invalid husbands as a result of two decades of conflict.
But since returning to power on August 15, the Taliban have shown no inclination to honour those rights.
When pressed, Taliban officials say women have been told to stay at home for their own security but will be allowed to work once proper segregation can be implemented.
“When will that be?” a woman teacher said Monday.
“This happened last time. They kept saying they would allow us to return to work, but it never happened.”
During the Taliban’s first rule from 1996 to 2001, women were largely excluded from public life including being banned from leaving their homes unless accompanied by a male relative.
In Kabul on Friday, a sign for the ministry for the promotion of virtue and prevention of vice was erected at the building housing the old government’s ministry for women’s affairs building in the capital.
Vice ministry enforcers were notorious for punishing anyone deemed not to be following the Taliban’s strict interpretation of Islam.
On Sunday around a dozen women protested briefly outside the building, but dispersed when approached by Taliban officials.
No official from the new regime responded Monday to requests for comment.
In Herat, an education official insisted the issue of girls and women teachers returning to school was a question of time, not policy.
“It is not exactly clear when that will happen: tomorrow, next week, next month, we don’t know,” Shahabudin Saqib told AFP.
“It’s not my decision because we have had a big revolution in Afghanistan.”
The United Nations said it was “deeply worried” for the future of girls’ schooling in Afghanistan.
“It is critical that all girls, including older girls, are able to resume their education without any further delays,” the UN’s children’s agency UNICEF said.
The Taliban appeared Friday to have shut down the government’s ministry of women’s affairs and replaced it with a department notorious for enforcing strict religious doctrine during their first rule two decades ago.
And in a further sign the Taliban’s approach to women and girls had not softened, the education ministry said only classes for boys would restart Saturday in an order for secondary schools to reopen.
In Kabul, workers were seen raising a sign for the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice at the old Women’s Affairs building in the capital.
Several posts have appeared on Twitter in the last 24 hours showing women workers from the ministry protesting outside the building, saying they had lost their jobs.
No official from the Taliban responded Friday to requests for comment on the matter.
Also on Friday, the education ministry issued a statement ordering male teachers back to work and said secondary school classes for boys would resume on Saturday.
“All male teachers and students should attend their educational institutions,” a statement said, making no mention of women teachers or girl pupils.
Most schools in Afghanistan are segregated by sex.
Afghan women will be allowed to attend university as long as they study separately from men, the Taliban’s new higher education minister said Sunday.
Women’s rights in Afghanistan were sharply curtailed under the Taliban’s 1996-2001 rule, though since returning to power last month the hardline Islamists have claimed they will implement a less extreme rule.
But speaking to reporters about the new regime’s plans for the country’s education, Minister Abdul Baqi Haqqani was unapologetic about bringing an end to mixed sex classes.
“We have no problems in ending the mixed-education system,” he said. “The people are Muslims and they will accept it.”
The Taliban announced earlier this month that women could still study at university if they wore an abaya robe and niqab covering most of the face, with classes segregated by sex — or at least divided by a curtain.
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.”
‘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.
‘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?”
As a nurse at one of Kabul’s main hospitals, Latifa Alizada was the breadwinner for her family, providing for her three young boys and unemployed husband.
Now — since the Taliban rolled into Afghanistan’s capital — she too is jobless, and worried about the future.
The 27-year-old left her role at Jamhuriat Hospital because the hardline Islamist group said salaries would not be paid, and imposed rules that would force her to wear a face veil and be segregated from male colleagues.
“I have left my job because there is no salary. There is no salary at all,” she said, holding the hands of two of her boys who chewed on sweetcorn cobs.
“If I go there, they say ‘do not work with this style of dress. Do not work with men. Work with women’. This is impossible,” she told AFP at a street market in Kabul.
“For us, there is no difference between men and women, because we are medical workers.”
Afghans like Alizada worry about what lies ahead under the Taliban.
Food prices have gone up at markets, the cost of fuel has risen and there are fewer opportunities to make money.
The United Nations this week warned prices for essential goods were soaring in Afghanistan, adding: “There are fears of food shortages, higher inflation, and a slump in the currency all resulting in an intensification of the humanitarian emergency across the country.”
Many government services are no longer functioning, while the international community — which has long propped up the aid-dependent economy — hesitates over funding Afghanistan.
In some sectors that are operating, the Taliban have offered wildly different salaries.
A former customs official, who did not want to be named for security reasons, told AFP he had worked at the Spin Boldak border crossing with Pakistan for more than seven years.
Under the previous government he earned about $240 per month, but the Taliban said they would pay him just $110.
“It is up to you if you want to continue your job, or quit,” the Taliban told him.
The official said he resigned after weighing up his salary against the cost of the long commute to work.
The sight of big crowds queueing to get into banks to access cash is now commonplace across Afghanistan.
The country’s central bank only has access to a fraction of its usual financing, cut off from the international banking system and access to the country’s foreign currency reserves.
It means cash is in short supply and the Taliban are enforcing a withdrawal limit of $200 per person each week.
In the capital on Wednesday about 150 men jostled in the midday sun outside a branch of Kabul Bank, where government employees under the last administration held accounts.
An armed security guard clutched an electric cable to use as a whip in case the crowd grew too boisterous as they queued for one of the two ATMs.
Abdullah told AFP he travelled overnight from the northeastern province of Takhar, which borders Tajikistan, to get to the branch at the crack of dawn — and he was still at the back of the queue at noon.
Worried about the future
“The problem is that after the collapse of the government, all the banks were closed,” the 31-year-old former army commando said.
He told AFP that some soldiers like him could not access their salaries in the months leading up to the Taliban takeover in mid-August.
“I was at my post for three or four months. My salary was in the bank and I couldn’t get it,” he said.
Other members of the security forces complained of not getting paid at all in the months leading up to the Taliban takeover.
A kitchenware shopkeeper in the capital, who did not want to give his name for security reasons, told AFP had no customers.
“Since the changes, all business has stopped,” he said, sitting on a stool in front of his empty store.
“We are facing lots of problems. People are staying in their homes because there are no jobs. There is no-one to buy from us.”
With high rents and next-to-no income, he worried about looking after his family of five.
“We cannot find the money to feed ourselves. People are concerned about how to find their meals, morning and night. Everyone is worried about their future.”
Universities in Kabul were almost empty on the first day of the Afghan school year, as professors and students wrestled with the Taliban’s restrictive new rules for the classroom.
The Taliban have promised a softer rule than during their first stint in power from 1996-2001, when women’s freedoms in Afghanistan were sharply curtailed and they were banned from higher education.
This time, the hardline Islamist group have said women will be allowed to go to private universities under the new regime, but they face tough restrictions on their clothing and movement.
Women can only attend class if they wear an abaya — a flowing robe — and a niqab — a face veil with a small window to see through — and are separated from men, the Taliban said.
“Our students don’t accept this and we will have to close the university,” said Noor Ali Rahmani, the director of Gharjistan University in Kabul, on an almost empty campus on Monday.
“Our students wear the hijab, not the niqab,” he added, referring to a headscarf.
The Taliban education authority issued a lengthy document on Sunday outlining their measures for the classroom, which also ruled that men and women should be segregated — or at least divided by a curtain if there are 15 students or less.
“We said we didn’t accept it because it will be difficult to do,” Rahmani told AFP.
“We also said that it is not real Islam, it is not what the Koran says.”
From now on at private colleges and universities, which have mushroomed since the Taliban’s first rule ended, women must only be taught by other women, or “old men”, and use a women-only entrance.
They must also end their lessons five minutes earlier than men to stop them from mingling outside.
So far, the Taliban has said nothing about public universities.
– ‘Let’s engage’ –
For some students, however, it was a relief that women would still be able to attend university at all under a new Taliban regime.
Zuhra Bahman, who runs a scholarship programme for women in Afghanistan, said on social media she had spoken to some of the students.
“They are happy to go back to university, albeit in hijab,” she said.
“Taliban opening universities for women is a key progress. Let’s continue to engage to agree on other rights and freedoms.”
Jalil Tadjlil, a spokesman for Ibn-e Sina University in the capital, said separate entrances had already been created for men and women.
“We didn’t have the authority to accept or reject the decisions that have been imposed,” he told AFP, blaming the “ongoing uncertainty” for the lack of students.
The university posted a picture online of male and female students separated by a curtain.
Images shared on Facebook by its department of economics and management showed six women wearing the hijab and ten male students with a grey curtain running between them, as a male teacher wrote on a whiteboard.
– ‘Everything changed’ –
Usually, campus corridors on the first day of the term would be packed with students catching up after the summer.
But on Monday, there was a strikingly low turnout at Kabul’s universities, leaving education leaders wondering just how many young, talented people have fled the country as part of the “brain drain”.
Rahmani said only 10 to 20 percent of the 1,000 students who enrolled last year came to Gharjistan University on Monday, although there were no classes scheduled.
He estimated up to 30 percent of the students left Afghanistan after the Taliban seized control in the middle of August.
“We have to see first if students come,” he said.
Reza Ramazan, a computer science teacher at the university said women students were particularly at risk when travelling to campus.
“It can be dangerous at checkpoints,” he said. “The Taliban can check their phones and computers.”
For 28-year-old computer science student Amir Hussein, “everything changed completely” after the Taliban takeover.
“Many students are not interested anymore in studying because they don’t know what their future will be,” he said.
When the Taliban swept into Kabul last month, capturing Afghanistan’s capital without a fight, the sheer speed of the collapse of the Western-backed and trained army stunned the world.
But senior officials in the former Afghan administration told AFP that the lightning victory was not entirely unexpected, and the consequence of fundamental leadership failures, rampant corruption, slick Taliban propaganda — and a crushing “betrayal” by US-led forces with their hasty pullout.
One top official close to the centre of power said that just two days before Taliban forces entered Kabul on August 15, he was present as former president Ashraf Ghani held an emergency meeting with his senior ministers, and military and spy chiefs.
“It was said that we had enough weapons, ammunition, and financial resources to hold Kabul for two years,” said the official, who claimed $100 million in cash was available to secure Kabul.
“It didn’t protect the city for two days,” he said.
– ‘Lying’ – The official, who like most sources AFP spoke to for this article did not want to be identified for fear of reprisals, said he was not surprised by the capitulation.
“Ministers were lying to Ghani, telling him that everything was fine, so they could keep their jobs and their privileges,” he said.
As the Taliban raced through the country, the inner circle debated policy reforms.
“We didn’t get our priorities right,” he added.
“As the cities fell, one after the other, the National Security Council met to talk about recruitment and institutional reforms.”
Taliban forces swept across the country in just two weeks, seizing provincial capitals often without a bullet being fired.
Another top ex-government official said nobody at the top showed leadership.
“None of them spoke to the media to reassure our men. None of them went into the field,” he said.
Ghani also made basic strategic mistakes, the close adviser added.
“I suggested we leave the south, as we didn’t have enough manpower to defend it in the long term.
“But the president disagreed. He said that all Afghanistan belonged to the government,” he said.
– Corruption – But for the Afghan army, holding everywhere against the Taliban was an impossible task.
Despite the billions of dollars of US-led military support, equipment and training, the army’s capacity had been hollowed out by years of rampant corruption.
Senior officers creamed off what they could, stealing salaries from lower ranks, as well as selling fuel and ammunition supplies.
The situation worsened after Washington struck a deal with the Taliban in February 2020 for a troop withdrawal agreement.
“We were betrayed,” said Sami Sadat, a general recognised for his bravery against the Taliban, who was brought in to lead the special forces in Kabul just days before its fall.
Without the critical protection of US air support — and with the former government’s own air force grounded after foreign contractors maintaining the fleet were pulled out by Washington — the army lost its strategic advantage.
– ‘Surreal’ – “The Taliban were emboldened,” Sadat said, writing in the New York Times.
“They could sense victory… Before that deal, the Taliban had not won any significant battles against the Afghan Army. After the agreement? We were losing dozens of soldiers a day.”
The final days of fighting were “surreal”, Sadat added.
“We engaged in intense firefights on the ground against the Taliban as US fighter jets circled overhead, effectively spectators,” he wrote.
Sadat dismissed the claim by US President Joe Biden that the Afghan had collapsed sometimes “without trying” to fight.
“We fought, bravely, until the end,” Sadat said. “We lost 66,000 troops over the past 20 years; that’s one-fifth of our estimated fighting force.”
For the soldiers on the frontlines, they saw little reason to die when top leaders were fleeing.
“When the Taliban got to the gates of Kabul, the soldiers knew the president was leaving — that’s why they didn’t fight,” said a former senior army officer who asked not to be named.
At the same time, the Taliban deployed a savvy use of media messages to persuade soldiers to surrender, undermining morale even further.
“We had already lost the social media war,” the first presidential confidante said.
“The Taliban were telling the soldiers that they were fighting needlessly, because at a higher level an agreement had already been signed.”
Abandoned and exhausted, soldiers saw little point in fighting on.
The Taliban on Tuesday fired shots into the air to disperse crowds who had gathered for an anti-Pakistan rally in the capital, the latest protest since the hardline Islamist movement swept to power last month.
The Islamists have yet to announce a government, but Afghans — fearful of a repeat of the group’s previous brutal reign between 1996 and 2001 — have staged small, isolated demonstrations in cities including the capital Kabul, Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif.
On Tuesday at least 70 people, mostly women, rallied outside the Pakistani embassy, holding banners and chanting against what they said was meddling by Islamabad, who have long been accused of having close ties to the Taliban movement.
Pakistan’s intelligence chief Faiz Hameed was in Kabul at the weekend, reportedly to be briefed by his country’s ambassador but is likely to have also met with Taliban officials.
AFP staff witnessed Taliban members firing shots into the air to disperse the crowds.
The previous day, a small group of women in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif gathered in a protest for their rights.
Defiant women also came together in Herat last week demanding they be allowed to participate in the new government.
Tuesday’s demonstration comes after the Taliban claimed total control over Afghanistan a day earlier, saying they had won the key battle for the Panjshir Valley, the last holdout of resistance against their rule.
– ‘Hit hard’ – Following their lightning-fast victory in mid-August over the former Afghan government’s security forces and the withdrawal of US troops after 20 years of war, the Taliban turned to fighting the forces defending the mountainous Panjshir Valley.
As the Islamist hardliners claimed victory, their chief spokesman warned against any further attempts to rise up against their rule.
“Anyone who tries to start an insurgency will be hit hard. We will not allow another,” Zabihullah Mujahid said at a press conference in Kabul.
As they undertake a mammoth transition into overseeing key institutions and cities of hundreds of thousands of people, Mujahid said an interim government would be announced first, allowing for later changes.
Afghanistan’s new rulers have pledged to be more “inclusive” than during their first stint in power, with a government that represents the country’s complex ethnic makeup — though women are unlikely to be included.
Women’s freedoms in Afghanistan were sharply curtailed under the Taliban’s 1996-2001 rule.
This time, women will be allowed to attend university as long as classes are segregated by sex or at least divided by a curtain, the Taliban’s education authority said in a lengthy document issued on Sunday.
The Taliban are also grappling with looming financial and humanitarian crises.