Afghanistan: Taliban celebrate one year in power - 'We have fulfilled the obligation of jihad'

Taliban Afghanistan

The Taliban declared today a public holiday to mark the first anniversary of their return to power in Afghanistan, a year marked by a sharp backlash in women's rights and a deep humanitarian crisis.

On August 15, 2021, thanks to the withdrawal of US and NATO troops after 20 years of military intervention in the country, fundamentalist Islamists recaptured the capital Kabul without a fight at the end of a nationwide blitzkrieg against government forces.

"We fulfilled the obligation of jihad and liberated our country," summed up Niamatullah Hekmat, a Taliban fighter who had entered Kabul that day, just hours after ousted president Ashraf Ghani had fled the country.

The chaotic withdrawal of foreign forces continued until August 31, with tens of thousands of panicked civilians rushing to the capital's only airport to leave the country on any available flight.

The images of crowds of people storming planes parked on the airport runway by climbing onto them, or hanging from a US Army cargo plane about to take off, are etched in the memory.

Apart from declaring today a public holiday, no official anniversary celebrations have been announced so far, but state television said it would broadcast special programs, without further details.

A year on, Taliban fighters are expressing their joy that their movement is now in power, while aid agencies, for their part, are expressing concern that half of the 38 million residents of the country are faced with extreme poverty.

"When we entered Kabul and when the Americans left, there were moments of joy," continues Niamatullah Hekmat, now a member of the special forces and attached to the presidential palace guard.

But for ordinary Afghans, and especially for women, the return of the Taliban has greatly increased the difficulties.

Very quickly and despite their initial promise, the country's new masters largely reverted to the ultra-conservative interpretation of Islam that had characterised their first stint in power, from 1996 to 2001, severely curtailing women's rights.

"They took everything from us"

Women are excluded from many public offices and are forbidden to travel alone outside their city.

In March, the Islamists again closed high schools and colleges for girls, just hours after their long-announced reopening.

And in early May, the Taliban's supreme leader ordered women to wear fully covering clothing, preferably the burqa, in public.

"From the day they came, life lost its meaning," says Ogai Amail, a resident of Kabul. "They grabbed everything from us, they even entered our personal space," he continues.

The day before yesterday, Saturday, in Kabul, Taliban fighters violently dispersed, hitting with the butts of their rifles and shooting into the air, around 40 women who were demonstrating for their rights to work and education.

Although Afghans acknowledge a reduction in violence with the end of the war following the Taliban's rise to power, many are suffering from an acute economic and humanitarian crisis.

"People who come to our shops complain so much about the high prices that we traders even start to hate what we do," says Noor Mohammad, a trader in Kandahar, southern Afghanistan, a historic home of the Taliban and a center of their authority.

For Islamist militants, however, the joy of victory sidesteps the current economic crisis.

"We may be poor, we may be facing difficulties, but the white flag of Islam will now fly forever in Afghanistan," says one of them, who stands guard in a public park in Kabul.

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