As the Taliban tighten the ropes of control over Afghanistan, their rebranded progressive image stands in stark contrast to the ground realties being reported from within Afghanistan.
In a press conference on Tuesday, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid claimed that they would protect women’s rights and press freedom, amongst other civil liberties within the confines of what Islam allows. Seminal in Mujahid’s address was the assertion that the Taliban would not be forcing their entry into people’s homes, nor would they revengefully attack against anyone who had previously served foreign officials or were a part of the Afghan National Security Forces.
The Taliban first gained global notoriety for their dictatorial and oppressive ways when they governed Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001. As the country surfaced from the grips of the United States foreign occupation, the world looked on in shock as the Taliban on Sunday reclaimed Kabul, unchallenged.
Agreeing with Mujahid’s assertion, a reporter for the Washington Post in Afghanistan pointed out that life was resuming rather normally, and that the Taliban were kind and gentle with the people. Despite being stopped twice, he was immediately let go after revealing his identity, claimed the user. Groups of Taliban were deployed around Kabul with the intention to protect administrative buildings, he added.
The Taliban has deployed dispatches of forces around the city, in particular for protection of public administrative buildings. They are nice and gentle with people: I was stopped twice today. As soon as I told my identity, they let me go without asking for my ID card.
— Ezzatullah Mehrdad (@EzzatMehrdad) August 16, 2021
This imagery of a new and improved Taliban out in the streets of the capital city hasn’t resonated with many. Several Afghans have voiced concerns against Taliban’s takeover and have shared accounts of being threatened in their homes. According to them, the Taliban weren’t out to protect, but to harass people within their homes. A recurring point has been that the Taliban fighters roaming the streets spoke a dialect unknown to the locals themselves.
One user, for instance, alleged that she could see hundreds of Taliban roaming outside her door, who demanded that her family serve them dinner and threatened action upon non-compliance.
‘There are #Taliban right at my doorstep, & there are a few of them forcing our family to provide them dinner. If we refuse we will face force. 100s of them in streets. They don’t speak local language ie Dari, Pashto or Uzbeki’ a #Kabul resident tells @BBCYaldaHakim #Afghanistan
— Yogita Limaye (@yogital) August 16, 2021
While some Afghans have been expressing trepidations from within, those outside the country have also been revealing the threats their friends and family are facing. One such user detailed how his family members in Kabul had barred themselves in because of the fighters collecting outside. According to the user, the Taliban openly looted and wreaked havoc in the area.
I am in regular contact with my family members in Kabul. Everyone has locked themselves in home fearing strangers & pagans roaming in the streets. According to them they are stealing cars, looting everything of their use. Their language dialect & accent is unknown to them.
— Naimat Wazir (@Naimatwazir03) August 16, 2021
Despite the Taliban claiming a slight departure from their more conservative ideologies, several government officials and civil servants have reported that they are being threatened by the new leadership.
A user helplessly requested swift evacuation of his sister who is a lawyer in Kabul. Tagging international officials such as US Congresswoman Ilhan Omer and Canadian Member of Parliament Maryam Monsef, the user claimed that the Taliban have threatened to punish his sister.
Taliban has threatened my sister, a lawmaker in Kabul. They sent her a warning letter that she will be punished soon. I need to get them out. Please connect me with anyone you know is doing the evacuations to any country.
— Ahmad Qais Munhazim (@QaisMunhazim) August 16, 2021
Another user insisted that Taliban fighters came looking for her friend’s father at his Kabul house because he had served in the now fallen Afghan government.
The Taliban is lying about no revenge. They came to my friend’s father’s house in Kabul. He was on “the list” because he was in government. She and her father are on the run at this moment.
— Gul Bukhari (@GulBukhari) August 16, 2021
Journalist Wesley Morgan, who has covers war-torn Afghanistan, alleged that the Taliban stormed through his interpreters’ home, who had seen the search unfold remotely in security camera footage from his phone.
Taliban searching my former interpreter’s house (he’s hiding out elsewhere and can see it via the app on his phone from his home security cameras)
— Wesley Morgan (@wesleysmorgan) August 17, 2021
In a rather disturbing tweet, an Afghan pilot alleged that the Taliban stormed the homes of two pilots, raped their women and killed them.
The Taliban terrorists entered the house of two pilots, raped their women & killed them in Kabul. Kabul is not safe for pilots, SOFs, ANA officers, police officers, civil society, & human rights activists. Before they intensify their campaign of murders, the world MUST ACT!
— Col Rahman Rahmani (@rahmanrahmanee) August 17, 2021
As these account trickle in, a sense of forlorn helplessness prevails for Afghans inside as their friends and families look to refugee friendly countries for support.
The Afghan Taliban leadership meanwhile has distanced itself from these reports. In his press conference on Tuesday, Zabiullah Mujahid had said that those creating trouble were ‘imposters’ and must be brought in front of the Taliban for strict action.