There Were Guns at a News Broadcast in Taliban-Run Afghanistan. Lots of Guns.

It wasn’t a hostage situation, but a glimpse of Afghanistan’s surreal and often confusing new reality under Taliban rule.

Aug 30 2021, 12:34pm

An Afghan TV presenter in a suit and tie interviews a Taliban commander live on camera, all while being surrounded by armed militants holding automatic weapons. He reads out a statement from the group, which wants the public to cooperate and not be afraid. A banner in the background ironically reads “Afghanistan Peace Studio,” a reference to the name of the show.

Presenter Mirwaiz Haidari Haqdost has interviewed at least three Taliban leaders on a channel called Afghanistan TV since the fighters seized power. But this appears to be the first time a Taliban commander appeared on camera with a gun-toting entourage, offering a glimpse into Afghanistan’s surreal, disturbing and often confusing new reality under their rule. The presenter appears relaxed even when he turns around to ask the armed militants questions. The ten-minute segment isn’t available on Afghanistan TV’s YouTube channel, which has been around for three years, and features the latest Taliban interviews along with older music and entertainment videos.

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The footage went viral on social media, where it was seen as yet another ominous harbinger of what the fundamentalist group has in store for the newly renamed Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

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The Taliban has tried to reassure people who remember how it governed more than 20 years ago, when it prevented women from working, carried out public executions and floggings, and banned the internet. “We want to build the future, and forget what happened in the past,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told the New York Times.

Sneak peeks of that future are starting to emerge, two weeks after the Taliban takeover and just as the U.S. withdrawal of troops is set to occur on Tuesday despite a deteriorating security situation in which scores have been killed. But actions speak louder than words, and the hard-line militant group’s moves so far have already sowed doubt and unease. 

In its clearest decisions yet on the closely watched issue of schooling, the Taliban’s acting minister of education announced over the weekend that women would be allowed to attend university, but separate from men. The barriers, which include gender-segregated classrooms at primary and secondary schools, sparked concerns about access to services.

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“It feels like [the Taliban] are putting in place new rules that, in the end, have the same effect that blanket prohibitions would have,” said Heather Barr, a former Afghanistan researcher and co-director of the women’s rights division at Human Rights Watch.

“Every day, it’s becoming clearer and clearer that the many Afghan women who said that they didn’t believe in a ‘kinder, gentler’ Taliban—were right.” 

Members of Taliban take control of the presidential palace in Kabul. Photo: AL JAZEERA / AFP

The mistrust is also fueling sales of burqas, the full-body, face-covering garments the Taliban imposed on women during its previous rule, even though detailed regulations on dress have yet to be announced. It’s just one of several ways Afghan people are taking action preemptively, anticipating the worst.

When the Taliban was in power from 1996 to 2001, it banned music and many forms of popular entertainment. Similar restrictions are expected, and radio and TV stations have pulled songs and female presenters. Networks around the country are also preparing for more crackdowns. In his interview with the New York Times, Mujahid dropped hints about how rules on music would play out in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, but left room for interpretation. He said that “music is forbidden in Islam… but we’re hoping that we can persuade people not to do such things, instead of pressuring them.”  

“Every day, it’s becoming clearer and clearer that the many Afghan women who said that they didn’t believe in a ‘kinder, gentler’ Taliban—were right.”

However, the net effect of such statements—coupled with the group’s optics—on the people has been pressure.

One celebrated music school in the capital Kabul, once home to Afghanistan’s first all-female orchestra, has shut its doors over concerns for their students’ safety. “The students are all fearful and concerned. They clearly understand that if they return to the school, they might face consequences or be punished for what they've been doing,” the school's founder and director, Ahmad Sarmast, told the BBC.

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A popular folk singer named Fawad Andarabi was reportedly killed on Friday, though the details around his death are murky. 

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As tens of thousands of Afghans flee the country, many who remain behind are anxiously waiting to see what comes next, though it may be too early to tell.

“Past history will have people quite concerned about Afghanistan’s future, but once the Taliban announce a new transition of government and a roadmap of where things will be heading, we’ll be in a better position to make predictions in terms of how a Taliban-led future will look like,” said Ibraheem Bahiss from the International Crisis Group.

Another factor is what measures Afghans will accept without pushback. Sharing the viral video of the TV presenter, one journalist suggested that if this was the new normal, “we will stop our work.”

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Tagged:

Taliban, worldnews

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