Asifa Bibi, a graduate student at Kabul University, is worried by the rising influence of the Taliban, with the armed group claiming new grounds as the US-led forces prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan.

"We don't want the Taliban to take over. We don't want them at all," Bibi, 24, told Al Jazeera.

"Once they [Taliban] take over, they will shut down all our offices and ask us to stay home. If this happens, how will young girls go to school and get an education?"

We don't want to be victims of this conflict. We don't want to fight. We should be living in peace and not in fear.

Ghafoor Obadi, Helmand resident

Nearly two months after Taliban appointed Mullah Akhtar Mansoor as its leader, the armed group has captured new territories in northern and eastern Afghanistan.

Late last month, the armed group briefly took over the northern city of Kunduz before it was driven out from the strategic city by Afghan forces backed by US air strikes.

It was the first time the Taliban made such gains in Kunduz since the US-led invasion ousted them from power in 2001.

The Taliban spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahid, has claimed that they have taken over 35 of Afghanistan's 398 districts (in 34 provinces) so far.

'It is about power'

However, General Daulat Waziri, the Afghan defence ministry spokesman, told Al Jazeera that the Afghan security forces have retaken almost all of the areas from the Taliban.

"If they [Taliban] fight this way, they are not doing any good to the country," said General Waziri.

"It's no longer about the Islamic law, it is about power. They want to take over Afghanistan to be in power. We want them to talk to us and bring peace to the country."

During the Taliban rule, women were almost nearly banned from public life, including offices and schools.

The Western-backed government has since promoted pro-women policies, and as a result, many women have stepped out of their homes and joined the workforce.

Bibi, who also works for a local non-profit organisation in the Afghan capital, Kabul, says her dream to promote education among young girls will collapse if the Taliban take over.

Her concerns are echoed by other Afghans who fear the return of the Taliban movement will lead to more violence and adversely affect education.

But Taliban spokesperson Mujahid told Al Jazeera: "Women have the right to seek education but should follow the Islamic law."

"Women are supposed to be covered before they step out of their homes," he said.

"We will make sure they get an education, but they cannot mingle with men whether in schools or in offices."

Pessimism

But for many civilians, who had hoped for peace in the wake of Taliban's ouster more than a decade ago, pessimism has set in.

"The Taliban and the government, both of them are evil and wrongdoers. I don't want either of them," said Mullahdad, a 30-year-old Kunduz resident.

 Growing Up Guantanamo

"Only poor people are suffering and dying. I had to take out a loan to feed my family. I don't care who takes over Afghanistan and who leaves. I want to feed my children."

Ghafoor Obadi, a resident of Helmand province, told Al Jazeera that he did not care about who was in the control of the country.

"I want peace whether the country is under the Afghan government or the Taliban," he said.

The Afghan forces currently claim full control of Kunduz and parts of Afghanistan.

However, the Taliban remain strong as they continue with deadly attacks in Pashtun-dominated areas in southern and eastern parts of the country.

"We don't want to be victims of this conflict. We don't want to fight. We should be living in peace and not in fear," Obadi said.

"We are all scared as the future of Afghanistan doesn't look promising at the moment."

Source: Al Jazeera