Amid the desperate scenes of chaos and panic as so many tried to flee Afghanistan, one hope remained – that the Taliban who had taken over in 2021 were very different to the brutal government that held power in the 1990s.
But make no mistake, the new version of the Taliban – the one which insists it has only Afghanistan’s best intentions at heart – is just as barbaric as the first.
The various recent statements from the Taliban leadership, declaring that they seek a peaceful transfer of power and the sanctity of women’s rights, have already proven to be a gross fallacy.
Only in May, one month after the announcement of the unconditional withdrawal of US troops, the ‘new’ Taliban launched a targeted bombing on schoolgirls in Kabul, killing more than 90 people.
In a further assault on women’s rights, they refused female students entry to Herat University after they took the city last week.
Amid the desperate scenes of chaos and panic as so many tried to flee Afghanistan, one hope remained – that the Taliban who had taken over in 2021 were very different to the brutal government that held power in the 1990s. Pictured: Thousands of Afghans rush to the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul
But make no mistake, the new version of the Taliban – the one which insists it has only Afghanistan’s best intentions at heart – is just as barbaric as the first
There are widespread accounts of the ‘new’ Taliban forcing girls and widows to become brides for their own fighters. This is tantamount to authorised child sexual abuse and child slavery.
Yet still they claim they will respect women’s rights. It is true that the Taliban have played a strategic masterclass. They have patiently out-waited Nato forces; made the most of the sanctuary they have received over the years courtesy of the Pakistani state; enjoyed freedom of manoeuvre between the two countries’ difficult-to-police border regions; and conducted lightning quick advances as soon as the US pulled out of Bagram airbase last month.
But the near total subjugation of the country by the Taliban now promises a harrowing existence for Afghanistan’s terrified and panic-stricken population. No one should be surprised by those shocking scenes of tens of thousands of Afghan civilians flocking to Kabul airport, many so desperate they clung to American planes as they took off, a few unlucky souls falling through the sky before us.
They know only too well what the barbarous Taliban regime will mean for them.
A wounded Afghani rests in a vehicle near the Kabul Airport in Kabul on Monday
The looting, murdering Taliban who want to subjugate women are the exact same Taliban I faced myself on the battlefield, and then went on to study academically.
They are steeped in the same religiously inspired ideology from the 7th century – and that will never change.
We patrolled village after village in central Helmand, and in each one villagers would come and thank us for liberating them from the Taliban’s oppressive rule.
Our presence enabled a civil society to take root, even flourish. It enabled girls to go to the local village school, for boys to receive an education outside of the fundamentalist madrasas.
The hard-fought progress we made in those places is now totally in jeopardy from this ‘new’ Taliban who are already meting out vengeance killings and reprisals on the population.
The hard-fought progress we made in those places is now totally in jeopardy from this ‘new’ Taliban who are already meting out vengeance killings and reprisals on the population. The men pictured above are purportedly accused of theft, and have been tarred in black and dragged through the streets by armed Taliban sympathisers
The organisation’s leadership have attempted to convey the fact that they are a politically legitimate party.
In particular, Abdul Ghani Baradar, the de facto political head of the Taliban, who is set to be unveiled as the president of the new Taliban government. He likes to pose on the international stage as a man of peace and was instrumental in last year’s Doha Agreement, the so-called US/Taliban peace deal that dictated terms for the US withdrawal.
The deal, signed by Baradar and his US counterparts, stipulated that the Taliban must not allow any part of Afghanistan under its control to be used by terrorist organisations which may plot attacks against the US and the West.
However, just this weekend, the Taliban installed Anas Haqqani, a senior member of the Haqqani terrorist network, as the Taliban’s new governor of the strategically important Nangarhar province which connects Kabul with Pakistan. This appointment breaks the very terms of the peace deal which Baradar proclaimed was so vital for the good of Afghanistan.
An Afghan family rushes to the Hamid Karzai International Airport as they flee the Afghan capital of Kabul
And, even if the leadership under Baradar does wish to broaden the Taliban’s international legitimacy – thereby accessing global markets and avoiding sanctions – there is a fundamental problem.
The Taliban is fuelled from the bottom up by the Wahhabi-inspired religious ideology of the rank and file fighters. So no matter how moderate the Taliban’s leaders may claim they are, the fighters on the ground will feel no compulsion whatsoever to observe the softer rhetoric about protecting women’s rights and human rights.
There have been many recent recorded instances of gross war-crime violations conducted by Taliban fighters. In a verified video recording, 22 unarmed Afghan Special Forces were summarily executed, even as they surrendered to the Taliban.
The fact is that a leopard does not change its spots. It is utter folly to continue to engage in the Taliban’s fanciful promises of a softer form of governance. To do so merely emboldens them further, adding legitimacy to a deeply illegitimate and murderous regime.
In the last few weeks, we have witnessed Taliban looting, summary executions and war crimes, and the beginning of the reversal of hard-fought rights for women and minority groups.
The return to the barbaric Sharia law practised by the Taliban and meted out by both rod and lash, is already here, and here to stay, for the helpless people the West have now abandoned in Afghanistan.
Robert Clark is a defence policy associate at the Henry Jackson Society. He served in the British Army for 13 years and studied the Taliban as part of his MA in conflict studies at King’s College London.