The Taliban marked the first anniversary of their return to power in Afghanistan today with a national holiday, amid violent suppression of women’s rights and reports of human rights violations.
Taliban fighters chanted victory slogans next to the now-closed US embassy in Kabul, a year after the hardline Islamists marched unopposed into the capital when their nationwide offensive against government forces ended 20 years of US-led military intervention.
“We fulfilled the obligation of jihad and liberated our country,” said Niamatullah Hekmat, a fighter who entered Kabul on August 15 last year just hours after Ashraf Ghani, the president at the time, fled the country.
The EU said it was “concerned” about worsening conditions for women and girls after the Taliban violently broke up a women’s rally this weekend.
Taliban fighters fired in the air and beat up protesters taking part in a women’s “bread, work and freedom” march in Kabul on Saturday. Some women were chased into nearby shops and assaulted with rifle butts.
The violence underscored the regime’s increasing restrictions, especially on women, since they regained control of Afghanistan.
A chaotic and very public withdrawal of foreign forces continued until August 31 last year, with tens of thousands of people rushing to Kabul’s airport hoping to be evacuated on any flight out of Afghanistan.
News outlets shared footage of crowds storming the city’s airport, climbing atop aircraft, with some filmed clinging to a departing US military cargo plane as it rolled down the runway. At least 20 people were killed at the airport in the week to August 22 last year.
Aid agencies have said that half the country’s 38 million people continue to face extreme poverty, while human rights abuses are common despite promises made by the Taliban a year ago that they were reformed.
An Amnesty International official warned: “Arbitrary detentions, torture, disappearances, summary executions have returned as the order of the day. Women and girls have been stripped of their rights and face a bleak future, deprived of education or the possibility of taking part in public life.”
Initially, the group promised a softer version of the harsh Islamist rule that characterised their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001.
However, tens of thousands of girls have been shut out of secondary schools, while women have been barred from returning to many government jobs. In May, women were ordered to fully cover up in public, ideally with an all-encompassing burqa.
“From the day they have come, life has lost its meaning,” said Ogai Amail, a resident of Kabul. “Everything has been snatched from us, they have even entered our personal space.”
The Taliban have remained internationally isolated and largely cut off from the flow of international aid enjoyed by Ghani’s government.
Despite this, the Taliban have planned several events for today to mark the anniversary, including speeches by officials and sports events.
“It’s the day of victory and happiness for the Afghan Muslims and people. It is the day of conquest and victory of the white flag,” the government spokesman Bilal Karimi said on Twitter.