The Taliban is promising to protect women’s rights and press freedom in the group’s first news conference following its stunning takeover of Afghanistan as the group’s co-founder returned to the country.
“We are going to allow women to work and study. We have got frameworks, of course. Women are going to be very active in the society but within the framework of Islam,” Zabihullah Mujahid, the group’s spokesman, said at a press conference in Kabul on Tuesday.
Following a lightning offensive across Afghanistan that saw many cities fall to the group with minimal resistance, the Taliban has sought to portray itself as more moderate than when it imposed a brutal rule in the late 1990s.
Mujahid, who had been a shadowy figure for years, said that “there will be no discrimination against women” adding that “they are going to work shoulder to shoulder with us.”
Pressed on how the new Taliban government will differ from the previous one, Mujahid said that the group has evolved and will not take the same actions they did in the past.
“There will be a difference when it comes to the actions we are going to take” compared with 20 years ago, he said.
The group is committed to protecting the rights of media workers, Mujahid assured the gathered journalists.
“We are committed to the media within our cultural frameworks. Private media can continue to be free and independent. They can continue their activities,” he said.
He also said the group has no plans to enter the homes of people or carry out retaliatory attacks on anyone who served in the previous governments, worked with foreigners or were part of the Afghan National Security Forces.
There have been unconfirmed reports of Taliban fighters entering the homes of Kabul residents, but Mujahid said those were impostors who should be turned over to the Taliban and face appropriate punishment.
Earlier on Tuesday, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the group’s co-founder and now deputy leader, arrived in the country’s second-largest city Kandahar from Doha, Qatar where he has spent months leading talks with the United States and then Afghan peace negotiators. Kandahar is the Taliban’s spiritual birthplace and capital during their first stint in power.
Baradar’s arrival may signal a deal on forming a government is close at hand. But in a possible complication, the vice president of the deposed government claimed on Twitter on Tuesday that he was the country’s “legitimate” caretaker president.
Amrullah Saleh said, under the constitution, he should be in charge because President Ashraf Ghani has fled the country.
Additional reporting by Ali M Latifi in Kabul.