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While promising a more inclusive government, the Taliban have handed top posts to veteran, hardline leaders © AFP / Aamir QURESHI

Afghanistan

What we know about the Taliban’s political agenda

Kabul, Afghanistan, Sep 25 – A month after seizing power following a lightning offensive in Afghanistan, the Taliban this week completed their interim government — but their political agenda is still unclear.

The lack of clarity is fuelling concern among Afghans and the international community that the hardline Islamists are heading towards imposing the same brutal policies against women and opponents seen in their previous rule between 1996 and 2001.

While much remains opaque, here is what we know about their political programme so far.

– Women’s rights –

This is one of the most eagerly awaited areas of Taliban policy.

How the all-male leadership treat women is expected to be critical to any resumption of suspended Western economic aid on which the country depends.

Since their return to power on August 15, the group have said they will respect women’s rights in accordance with Islamic sharia law, without elaborating. During their last rule, women were forced to wear all-covering burqas, and barred from work or study except in rare circumstances.

Most have been told not to return to work until the Taliban have ironed out “new systems”, while some are staying home out of fear of future reprisal attacks for being a working woman.

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Girls are allowed to go to primary school but have been excluded from secondary school.

The Taliban says the measures are temporary, but many are distrustful of the group.

Afghan women studying at private universities can return to single-sex classrooms with strict conservative rules imposed on attire.

– Press freedom –

Upon taking power, the Taliban said journalists — including women — can continue to work.

“We will respect freedom of the press because media reporting will be useful to society and will be able to help correct the leaders’ errors,” a Taliban spokesman told Reporters Without Borders.

A month later, the tone has changed. According to RSF, the group have imposed 11 rules on Afghan journalists that they must now obey.

The Taliban say music is forbidden in Islam © AFP/File / AREF KARIMI

One of them is a ban on broadcasting “material contrary to Islam” or considered “insulting to public figures”.

The rules could be used for the persecution of journalists and open the door to censorship, RSF said.

Even before the announcement of these new guidelines in mid-September, many journalists had fled the country.

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Those who were unable to leave remain in hiding at home for fear of reprisals.

Some Afghan journalists were briefly arrested or beaten on the sidelines of recent anti-Taliban protests.

– Culture –

During their first stint in power, the Taliban were infamous for their strict interpretation of sharia law, banning music, photography, television, and even children’s games such as kite-flying.

The group dynamited giant Buddha statues at Bamiyan months before they were ousted from power.

This time, the Taliban have yet to issue official decrees regarding entertainment and culture.

“Music is forbidden in Islam,” spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told the New York Times last month.

Music schools have closed and some players have smashed their instruments.

Libraries, museums and galleries are also shuttered, with heritage experts deeply concerned about whether ancient artifacts will be protected and access to literature allowed.

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– Economy –

This is one of the most pressing challenges the new regime will have to tackle.

Afghanistan is facing a financial crisis following the takeover, with much of the international aid that had propped up the economy frozen.

The Taliban’s economic programme is still extremely vague.

The Taliban must transform from insurgency into governing power © AFP / Hoshang Hashimi

“We are going to be working on our natural resources and our resources in order to revitalise our economy,” Mujahid said.

But it remains to be seen how the Taliban will find the funds to pay civil servants’ salaries — or to support critical infrastructure to keep the lights on, water running and telecommunications working.

In the midst of a liquidity crisis and at a time when the population was already struggling to make ends meet, the movement said it had turned the page on corruption, which tainted the previous government.

– Security and drugs –

Many Afghans have reported an increased sense of security since the Taliban took over and fighting ended.

But it has moved to crush dissent, breaking up protests led mainly by women by firing shots into the air and later effectively banning all demonstrations.

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The Taliban have also warned that “anyone who tries to start an insurgency will be hit hard”, a message to resistance forces in Panjshir, who were defeated earlier this month.

They have also said they would eradicate the local branch of jihadist group Islamic State, which has claimed a number of bomb attacks over the past few weeks.

As for drugs, Taliban spokesperson Mujahid promised that the new government would not turn Afghanistan, the world’s leading producer of opium, into a real narco-state.

– Sport –

Certain sports were allowed under the Taliban’s first government, but they were strictly controlled and only men could play or attend matches.

The new sports chief of the Taliban government, Bashir Ahmad Rustamzai, said they would allow around 400 sports “permitted by the laws of Islam” — but declined to clarify if women could participate in any of them.

The statements of other Taliban members sowed confusion, leaving sportswomen and the country’s athletes fearing a step backwards.

Some of them have already fled and found refuge abroad.

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