Taliban view their rule of Afghanistan as open-ended, drawing legitimacy from Islamic law and facing no significant threat, their chief spokesman said in an interview marking the second anniversary of the Taliban takeover of the country. He also indicated a ban on female education will remain in place.
Zabihullah Mujahid brushed aside any questions from The Associated Press about restrictions on girls and women, saying the status quo will remain. The ban on girls attending school beyond sixth grade was the first of what became a flurry of restrictions that now keep Afghan women from classrooms, most jobs and much of public life. The Taliban seized power on Aug. 15, 2021, as US and NATO forces withdrew from the country after two decades of war.
To mark the anniversary, Tuesday was declared a public holiday. Women, largely barred from public life, didn’t take part in the festivities. In the southern city of Kandahar, the spiritual birthplace of the Taliban, military personnel posed with armored vehicles. Young men rode through the city on bicycles, motorcycles and cars, waving flags and brandishing weapons.
Toddlers clutched small white Taliban flags bearing a photo of Defense Minister Maulvi Mohammad Yaqoob on the bottom right corner. In the capital, Kabul, pick-up trucks crammed with men and boys wound their way through the city. Men swarmed Martyrs Square, taking selfies and clambering onto a monument.
Over the past two years, it has become increasingly apparent that the seat of power is in Kandahar, the home of supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada, rather than the Taliban-led government in Kabul. The interview with Mujahid took place late Monday in a TV studio on a rundown former military compound in Kandahar.
The U.N. Mission in Afghanistan and local government departments are located nearby. The Taliban spokesman arrived in a white SUV, accompanied by a guard and a driver. He spoke calmly and politely, falling back on Taliban talking points on issues like women’s rights and international recognition.
“There is no fixed term for the Islamic government,” he said of Taliban rule, which he claimed draws legitimacy from Islamic law, or Sharia. “It will serve for as long as it can and as long as the emir (the supreme leader) isn’t removed for doing something that goes against Sharia.”
Taking stock after two years, Mujahid said Taliban rule faces no threats from inside or outside the country. He claimed the current government is acting responsibly, and that Afghans crave consensus and unity. “There is no need for anyone to rebel,” Mujahid said. In a statement Tuesday, the Taliban government listed what it considered its accomplishments, including restoring a sense of personal safety and national pride.
The statement made no mention of the tens of thousands of Afghans who fled in the aftermath of the takeover or the severe economic downturn and deepening poverty as international aid dried up. Mujahid was reluctant to discuss the restrictions on girls and women, brushing aside questions about the issue as repetitive and saying there was no point talking about it unless there were updates. He did suggest change was unlikely. In conversations with foreign diplomats and aid officials, the Taliban typically avoid saying they oppose female education on principle, arguing instead that they need more resources and time to allow for gender segregation in classrooms and university campuses, in line with their interpretation of Sharia.
Mujahid presented this argument in the interview, noting that “everything will be under the influence of Sharia.” Asked why the Taliban aren’t enlisting Muslim-majority countries with Sharia-based systems to restart female education, he said the Taliban don’t need the help of others. Akhundzada, the supreme leader, is seen as the leading force behind the classroom ban which was issued unexpectedly in March 2022, just as Kabul-based government ministers said they were preparing to allow girls from seventh grade and up to return to school. Mujahid said there was disagreement among religious scholars on female education, and suggested that maintaining harmony among them was more important than getting girls and women back into classrooms.
Speaking to reporters in Washington, Secretary of State Antony Blinken insisted the path to a more normal relationship between the Taliban and other countries will be blocked “unless and until” the rights of women and girls were supported. The prospect of international isolation and the lack of recognition as Afghanistan’s legitimate government because of restrictions on women and girls isn’t a pressing concern for the Taliban leadership, Mujahid said.
“Our interaction with China, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Pakistan and other countries in the region is official,” he said. “We have embassies, travel, consulates. We have businesses. Traders come and go and transfer goods. These are all the things that mean the recognition of officialdom.” Aid agencies, rights groups and the UN this week issued statements condemning the Taliban’s rule and warning of the humanitarian crisis gripping the Afghan population. World Vision said the number of people in need of assistance has increased by around 5 million.
It said 15 million people will face “crisis” levels of food insecurity this year, with 2.8 million in the “emergency” category, the fourth highest in the world. An alliance of rights groups, including Amnesty International, said the Taliban should be pressured to end violations and repression and should be investigated for alleged crimes under international law, including gender persecution against women and girls. In Geneva, the World Health Organization expressed concern about Afghans’ lack of access to basic health services.
Spokeswoman Dr. Margaret Harris said 20 percent of the population suffer from mental health problems and 4 million from drug addiction and associated disorders. “Most health facilities have poor infrastructure, and there are fewer qualified health care workers due to immigration, limits on women’s movement and employment, and reduced funds to pay salaries and keep facilities open,” Harris said.”
The Taliban’s Perception of Long-Term Rule in Afghanistan and Their Stance on Women’s Education
On the occasion of the second anniversary of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, the group’s chief spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, offered insights into their perspective on governance and women’s rights. Mujahid’s interview shed light on the Taliban’s strategy, emphasizing their reliance on Islamic law for legitimacy and their perception of a lack of substantial challenges to their rule.
Mujahid conveyed that the Taliban perceive their control over Afghanistan as indefinite and derive their authority from Islamic principles. They draw upon Sharia law to substantiate their governance, asserting that it will persist as long as their supreme leader, known as the emir, adheres to Sharia and remains unopposed within the framework of their interpretation.
One contentious issue discussed was the prohibition on female education, particularly beyond the sixth grade. When questioned about the status of this restriction, Mujahid dismissed queries from The Associated Press, indicating that the prevailing policy would persist. This prohibition on girls attending school beyond a certain grade was the first in a series of regulations that have effectively limited Afghan women’s participation in educational, professional, and public spheres.
The Taliban’s ascension to power in August 2021, following the withdrawal of US and NATO forces, marked a significant turning point in Afghanistan’s history. The anniversary was commemorated with a public holiday, though the celebrations largely excluded women due to their restricted roles in public life.
In Kandahar, the symbolic birthplace of the Taliban movement, military personnel marked the event with displays of armored vehicles. Throughout the city, enthusiastic displays of support were visible, with young men parading on bicycles, motorcycles, and cars, proudly waving flags and displaying weapons. Even young children held Taliban flags, bearing the image of Defense Minister Maulvi Mohammad Yaqoob.
Over the past two years, it has become evident that Kandahar holds significant influence as the center of power, with the supreme leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, hailing from this region. This has led to a perceived shift in authority away from the Taliban-led government in Kabul.
Mujahid’s interview took place in Kandahar, where he addressed various topics including women’s rights and the Taliban’s standing on the global stage. Despite growing concerns about the plight of Afghan women and international criticism, Mujahid expressed confidence in the stability of the current government and dismissed the need for rebellion.
The Taliban’s self-evaluation of their rule highlighted accomplishments such as restoring personal safety and fostering national pride. However, this account neglected to acknowledge the massive displacement of Afghans and the economic hardships exacerbated by the decline in international aid.
Regarding women’s education, Mujahid was evasive, citing the influence of Sharia law as the guiding principle. He defended the gender segregation policy, claiming that it would persist under the umbrella of Sharia. Despite international inquiries about collaborating with Muslim-majority nations that follow Sharia principles but still promote female education, Mujahid asserted the Taliban’s self-sufficiency in this regard.
Notably, it was acknowledged that the supreme leader, Akhundzada, played a pivotal role in enacting the classroom ban for girls, a decision that sparked controversy in March 2022. Mujahid emphasized that religious scholars’ opinions on female education were divided and suggested that maintaining consensus among them was a priority over reintegrating girls into classrooms.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking from Washington, emphasized that the international community’s engagement with the Taliban would depend on their commitment to women’s and girls’ rights. However, Mujahid indicated that international isolation and lack of recognition weren’t immediate concerns for the Taliban leadership, who highlighted existing official interactions with various countries.
Despite statements from aid agencies, rights organizations, and the United Nations condemning the Taliban’s governance and warning about the humanitarian crisis, the Taliban leadership remains steadfast in their stance. World Vision reported a growing number of people in need of assistance, with millions facing food insecurity, and rights groups demanded an end to violations and repression.
In Geneva, the World Health Organization voiced concerns about Afghan citizens’ limited access to basic healthcare services, highlighting mental health challenges and addiction issues. The infrastructure of health facilities has suffered due to migration, restrictions on women’s mobility and employment, and reduced funding.
In conclusion, the Taliban’s view of their open-ended rule, grounded in Islamic law, remains intact. Their interview shed light on their position on women’s education and the challenges faced by Afghanistan’s population amidst changing governance.