Geopolitics

"We Can't Rule Alone" - New Taliban Leaders Speak

Reporter Daniel-Dylan Böhmer of Die Welt gained exclusive access to key Taliban officials in Kabul, and visited the heavily armed security forces at the airport, to get a sense of what Afghanistan's future may hold.

A Taliban fighter in front of the Norwegian Embassy in Kabul

Daniel-Dylan Böhmer

KABUL — At the gates of Kabul Airport, piles of clothing lie in the dusty wind. People fleeing the Taliban were forced to leave them behind. On the runway stands Qari Farhad Fateh, 30. He has the beard and long hair of a Taliban fighter, and is wearing a pillaged American uniform.

The heavy military jeeps lined up on the asphalt are also from U.S. stock. When asked how important this equipment is for his unit, the commander says not what they will be used for, but what they have cost: "Yes, the Humvees are important for our operations. They were won with the blood of our brothers."

The commander took his third name from that of his unit — Fateh, the conqueror. In the decades-long war against the Afghan government and NATO troops, the Fateh unit carried out suicide attacks. What about the innocent civilians who were killed in such attacks?

"I am not authorized to speak about that," he says. In welcoming 70 new recruits to secure the airport, he is pushing a different message: "The fighting is over. Now the important thing is to secure peace."

No one knows what will become of Afghanistan. The radical Islamist Taliban have driven out the most powerful nations in the world and for the second time in three decades they have the opportunity to establish a new state. But what kind of state will that be?

In the former Ministry of Interior Affairs, now renamed the Ministry for Peace, Ahmadullah Ahmadzai, 38, directs a somewhat embarrassed smile at the calendar on his table. It's from the now defeated republic, and the photo for this week shows, among others, former vice president of the Afghan National Assembly Fawzia Koofi, one of the most prominent women's rights campaigners in the country.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid announcing Afghanistan's new government — Photo: Saifurahman Safi/Xinhua via ZUMA Press

"When we moved in here, we were given instructions not to destroy anything or move anything," says Ahmadzai. "We stuck by that."

A legacy of brutality

The Ministry's declared aim is reconciliation within Afghan society. Ahmadzai says they are contacting ministers and generals from the former regime and calling on them to make peace with the Taliban emirate. A few have accepted their overtures of friendship.

"We tell them very openly that we can't rule Afghanistan alone," he says. "We want all sectors of society to be involved — except for politicians who were corrupt or have blood on their hands."

Ahmadzai insists that the call for reconciliation is sincere. There is no other way to solve the country's problems: unemployment, supply issues, lack of money. Afghanistan needs some success stories now.

But are the Taliban capable of reconciliation? In the 90s, their regime was infamous for its draconian punishments — cutting off hands and heads, public executions in football stadiums; for excluding women and children from the workplace, the public sphere and education; and for their ruthless suppression of critics.

But the Taliban have also suffered. If you talk to their members, you hear stories of families who have lost six, seven, eight sons in the fighting, and of mothers, sisters and children who were killed by American drone strikes. Is it possible to issue a decree calling for peace after decades of brutality on both sides?

The Taliban's greatest enemy is distrust — that of the international community and the Afghan population.

"That is a good question," says Ahmadzai. "When we fighters talk amongst ourselves, those who are religious scholars often cite an example from the life of the prophet. Mohammed was driven out of Mecca and pursued by troops from the city for a long time. When he eventually returned to the city victorious, he treated his former enemies as brothers."

Ahmadzai says the Taliban has no plans to reintroduce hudud, the Koranic punishments that include mutilation and execution.

So far none of the nightmare scenarios that some feared when the Taliban regained power have come to pass. There have been a few scattered reports of arbitrary attacks on the population, forced marriages and abductions. But the militia's advance was not accompanied by mass shootings, at least according to independent Afghan investigators who have looked into these isolated reports.

There are also no signs that hudud is being reintroduced. Shortly after taking Kabul, the Taliban announced that women and children would be allowed to continue to work and attend school in the future, within the context of Islamic sharia law. But there are many possible interpretations of what this will mean.

'The people's choice'

Even staunchly secular Afghan experts recognize in the Taliban's current leadership a younger generation that is more modern in its thinking and behavior, a generation that wants to give the movement a new image. Perhaps the most important representative of this generation is Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid.

Before the interview begins, Mujahid says his evening prayer in one of the hotel's rooms. "According to sharia, men and women have equal rights," says Mujahid. "But women also have the right to be protected from harassment and psychological or physical pressure in the workplace. And that means that men's and women's spheres should be separated. It means that we should create a context in which women can work without being put at risk."

He says that under the previous government there were many complaints of harassment in the workplace. But if women have equal rights, shouldn't they be allowed to decide for themselves how they would like to be protected?

"It is the government's responsibility to protect women," he answers. Mujahid claims it was the people's choice to introduce sharia law, and that Afghans support the Taliban. "How else would we have managed to take back the country in 10 days?"

The Taliban spokesman says the most important thing for Afghanistan now is reconciliation and wellbeing, and that the government wants to boost the economy and create more jobs. To achieve this it will need help from the international community, including Germany.

"We want to have strong, official diplomatic relations with Germany," says Mujahid. "The Germans have always been welcome in Afghanistan. They did a lot of good in the country, in the time of the Shah. Unfortunately they then joined the Americans, but that's forgiven now."

Qari Fasihuddin, Chief of Army Staff of Taliban government — Photo: Salampix/Abaca via ZUMA Press

He says the new Taliban government will look to Germany and other countries for financial support, humanitarian aid and cooperation in health, agriculture and training.

Mujahid knows that the international community will make respecting human rights a condition of any aid. That is why many onlookers suspect the Taliban is merely pretending to have changed its ways. Experts say that alongside the more moderate members, there are still of course hardliners in the movement, whose influence is particularly strong on young, less educated fighters in the provinces.

The moderate approach, if it's sincere, will be judged by the changes on the ground. The Taliban's greatest enemy is distrust — that of the international community and the Afghan population. Many women we spoke to in Afghanistan fear renewed discrimination, and despite the Taliban's assurances that freedom of speech will be protected, none of the Afghan women's rights activists we contacted were prepared to go on record.

Afghans who are critical of the Taliban are reluctant to speak to foreign media. At the same time, many others welcome the Taliban's promise to restore order and stability. On Saturday, a demonstration of around a dozen women near the presidential palace was quickly shut down by Taliban security forces.

Evening in Kabul. The shops are open. In the city center there are women out and about, most wearing headscarves rather than the full burka. A group of Taliban members walk down one of the main streets, leading two men whose hands are tied together. They keep their heads down, ashamed. One is accused of stealing a car, the other of selling drugs.

"They will now be tried in an Islamic court!" calls out the young Taliban member walking behind them. Passers-by film the scene on their phones. We could ask them what they make of it, but would we really get an honest answer with Taliban members holding Kalashnikovs hovering nearby?

The Taliban have promised true security, but that doesn't exist without basic freedoms. Whether the Taliban will accept that remains to be seen.

Support Worldcrunch
We are grateful for reader support to continue our unique mission of delivering in English the best international journalism, regardless of language or geography. Click here to contribute whatever you can. Merci!

A tribute to the 30,000 Iranian political prisoners murdered in Iran in 1988

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Hannah Steinkopf-Frank and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Laba diena!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Afghanistan's Taliban demand to speak at the United Nations, China takes a bold ecological stand and we find out why monkeys kept their tails and humans didn't. Business magazine America Economia also looks at how Latin American countries are looking to attract a new generation of freelancers known as "digital nomads" in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

[*Lithuanian]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Taliban ask to speak at UN: With global leaders gathered in New York for the 76th meeting of the UN General Assembly, Afghanistan's new rulers say their country's previously accredited United Nations ambassador no longer represents the country, and have demanded a new Taliban envoy speak instead. Afghanistan is scheduled to give the final intervention next Monday to the General Assembly, and a UN committee must now rule who can speak.

• Four corpses found on Belarus border with Poland: The discovery of bodies of four people on Belarus-Poland border who appear to have died from hypothermia are raising new accusations that Belarus is pushing migrants to the eastern border of the European Union, possibly in retaliation over Western sanctions following the contested reelection of the country's strongman Alexander Lukashenko. The discovery comes amid a surge of largely Afghani and Iraqi migrants attempting to enter Poland in recent weeks.

• China to stop building coal-burning power plants abroad: Under pressure to limit emissions to meet Paris climate agreement goals, China announces an end to funding future projects in Indonesia, Vietnam and other countries through its Belt and Road initiative.

• Turkey ratifies Paris climate agreement: Following a year of wildfires and flash floods, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced at the UN that Turkey will become the last G-20 country to ratify the emissions-limiting accords. Turkey already signed the agreement in 2016, but has yet to hold a vote in parliament.

• Mass evacuations following Canary Islands volcano: More than 6,000 people have fled the Spanish archipelago as heavy flows of lava have buried hundreds of homes. Four earthquakes have also hit the Canaries since the Sunday eruption, which could also cause other explosions and the release of toxic gas.

• Rare earthquake hits Melbourne: The 5.9 magnitude quake struck near Melbourne in southern Australia, with aftershocks going as far Adelaide, Canberra and Launceston. Videos shared on social media show at least one damaged building, with power lines disrupted in Australia's second largest city. No injuries have been reported.

• The evolutionary tale of tails: Charles Darwin first discovered that humans evolved to lose this biological trait. But only now are New York scientists showing that it was a single genetic tweak that could have caused this shift, while our monkey relatives kept their backside appendages.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"The roof of Barcelona" — El Periodico daily reports on the latest delay from what may be the longest-running construction project in the world. Work on the iconic Barcelona church La Sagrada Familia, which began all the way back in 1882 as the vision of master architect Antoni Gaudí, was slated to be completed in 2026. The Barcelona-based daily reports that a press conference Tuesday confirmed that the deadline won't be met, in part because of delays related to COVID-19. Officials also provided new details about the impending completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin), the first tower of the temple to be completed in 44 years. Although it is currently the second tallest spire of the complex, it will become the highest point of the Sagrada Familia, reaching 172.5 meters thanks to an illuminated "great cross."

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Latin America, the next mecca for digital nomads

Latin American countries want to cash in on the post-pandemic changes to the fundamental ways we work and live, in particular by capitalizing on a growing demand from the new wave of remote workers and "youngish" professional freelancers with money to spend, reports Natalia Vera Ramírez in business magazine America Economia.

💻🏖️ Niels Olson, Ecuador's tourism minister, is working hard to bring "digital nomads" to his country. He believes that attracting this new generation of freelancers who can work from anywhere for extended visits is a unique opportunity for all. Living in a town like Puerto López, he wrote on Twitter, the expat freelancer could "work by the sea, live with a mostly vaccinated population, in the same time zone, (enjoy) an excellent climate, and eat fresh seafood." For Ecuador, the new influx of visitors with money to spend would help boost the country's economy.

🧳 While online-based freelancers already hopped from country to country before COVID-19, the pandemic has boosted their current numbers to around 100 million worldwide. The Inter-American Development Bank estimates there could be a billion roaming, digital workers by 2050. Some European countries already issue visas for digital nomads. They include Germany, Portugal, Iceland, Croatia, Estonia and the Czech Republic, but in the Americas, only four countries make the list, namely Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Panama and Costa Rica.

💰 In August 2021, Costa Rica approved a law for remote workers and international service providers, intended to attract digital nomads and make its travel sector more competitive. The law provides legal guarantees and specific tax exemptions for remote workers choosing to make the country their place of work. It allows foreign nationals earning more than $3,000 a month to stay for up to a year in the country, with the ability to renew their visa for an additional year. If applicants are a family, the income requisite rises to $5,000.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

$2.1 billion

Google announced yesterday it will spend $2.1 billion to buy a sprawling Manhattan office building, in one of the largest sales of a building in U.S. history. The tech giant plans on growing its New York workforce to more than 14,000 people.

📣 VERBATIM

It is sickening and shameful to see this kind of president give such a lie-filled speech on the international stage.

— Opposition Brazilian congresswoman Vivi Reis in response to President Jair Bolsonaro's inflammatory 12-minute speech at the UN General Assembly. The unvaccinated head of state touted untested COVID-19 cures, criticized public health measures and boasted that the South American country's environmental protections were the best in the world.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Hannah Steinkopf-Frank & Bertrand Hauger

Support Worldcrunch
We are grateful for reader support to continue our unique mission of delivering in English the best international journalism, regardless of language or geography. Click here to contribute whatever you can. Merci!
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS
MOST READ