Taliban say they want peace, will respect women's rights under Islamic law

Published August 17, 2021
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid speaks at his first news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Tuesday. — AP
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid speaks at his first news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Tuesday. — AP

The Taliban held their first official news conference in Kabul on Tuesday since the shock seizure of the city, declaring they wanted peaceful relations with other countries and would respect the rights of women within the framework of Islamic law.

“We don't want any internal or external enemies,” the movement's main spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said.


Key points from Taliban's first press conference

  • We seek no revenge and "everyone is forgiven"
  • We will honour women's rights but within the norms of Islamic law
  • We want private media to remain independent but the media should not work against national interests
  • Afghanistan will not allow itself to harbour anyone targeting other nations
  • Afghanistan will be a narcotics-free country

Mujahid, who until now had been a shadowy figure issuing statements on behalf of the militants, said women would be allowed to work and study and “will be very active in society but within the framework of Islam”.

The Taliban would not seek retribution against former soldiers and members of the Western-backed government, he said, insisting that "everyone is forgiven." He added that the movement was granting an amnesty for former Afghan government soldiers as well as contractors and translators who worked for international forces.

Editorial: Taliban cannot expect to gain international recognition without reaching out to their former rivals

“Nobody is going to harm you, nobody is going to knock on your doors,” he said.

He added that a new government would be formalised as soon as the unstable conditions in Kabul permitted.

Mujahid stressed that Afghanistan would not allow itself to harbour anyone targeting other nations. That was a key demand in a deal the militants struck with the Trump administration in 2020 that led to the ultimate US withdrawal under current President Joe Biden.

He said private media could continue to be free and independent in Afghanistan, adding the Taliban were committed to the media within its cultural framework.

He also pledged that Afghanistan, source of most of the world's heroin according to a UN drugs control agency, would be free of narcotics, asking the international community to help it develop alternative crops for farmers who have relied on opium poppies for their livelihood.

Mujahid's conciliatory tone contrasted sharply with comments by Afghan First Vice President Amrullah Saleh, who declared himself the “legitimate caretaker president” and vowed that he would not bow to Kabul's new rulers.

The Taliban news conference came as the United States and Western allies evacuated diplomats and civilians a day after scenes of chaos at Kabul airport as Afghans desperate to flee the Taliban thronged the terminal.

As they rush to evacuate diplomats and civilians from Afghanistan, foreign powers are assessing how to respond to the changed situation on the ground.

Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the Taliban should allow all those who wanted to leave the country to depart, adding that Nato's aim was to help build a viable state in Afghanistan.

There has been widespread criticism of the US withdrawal amid the chaotic scenes at Kabul airport.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said “the images of despair at Kabul airport shame the political West.”

Under last year's US troop withdrawal pact, the Taliban agreed not to attack foreign forces as they leave.

Many Afghans have expressed the fear that the Taliban will return the country the brutal rule they used when last in charge, and foreign officials have said they will wait to see if the insurgents make good on their promises.

Flights resume

US military flights evacuating diplomats and civilians from Afghanistan restarted on Tuesday after the runway at Kabul airport was cleared of thousands desperate to flee.

US forces took charge of the airport — their only way to fly out of Afghanistan — on Sunday, as the militants wound up a week of rapid advances by taking over Kabul without a fight, 20 years after they were ousted by a US-led invasion.

The number of civilians had thinned out, a Western security official at the airport told Reuters. On Monday, US troops had fired warning shots to disperse crowds and people clung to a US military transport plane as it taxied for take-off.

At least 12 military flights had taken off, a diplomat at the airport said. Planes were due to arrive from countries including Australia and Poland to pick up their nationals and Afghan colleagues.

President Biden said he had to decide between asking US forces to fight endlessly or follow through on the withdrawal agreement negotiated by his predecessor.

“I stand squarely behind my decision,” Biden said. “After 20 years I've learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US forces.”

Facing criticism from even his own diplomats, he blamed the Taliban's takeover on Afghan political leaders who fled and its army's unwillingness to fight.

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