The Taliban has promised to give women in Afghanistan full rights under sharia law and said they would not seek revenge against enemies, nor allow the country to be used to carry out terrorist attacks abroad.
In a charm offensive, just days after they took control of the country, the Islamists sought to reassure opponents at home and abroad that the emirate will have a responsible government.
The group’s spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahid, talked of a “commitment to the rights of women under the system of Sharia” and wanted to assure that “Afghanistan’s soil is not going to be used against anybody” and stressed that “there is full security across the country”.
But while the Taliban was presenting its refurbished image, there were worrying reports of night raids and arrests of suspects by armed men adding to the deep trepidation felt by those who believe they will be targeted.
Mr Mujahid, who has become the public face of the Taliban in the diplomatic talks with the US in the Qatari capital, Doha, and then as it took over the country in an astonishingly swift military offensive, was vague in his answers about the pledges made, especially on the issue of women’s rights. He added: “Nobody is going to harm you, nobody is going to knock on your doors.”
However, a series of searches of homes and arrests by the Taliban had raised further grave concern among those who had opposed the theocratic rule of the jihadis. So far the raids have been limited in numbers. They have been focused, say the Taliban, on criminals, and also former officials who may have weapons in their homes.
But a number of local journalists and civil rights workers are believed to have been detained.
The brother of a student activist, who did not want the family name publicised, said : “Men came into our home in the middle of the night. They did not identify themselves and took my brother away. We went to the local police stations, but they are shut now. We went to a Taliban checkpoint, they said they didn’t know anything about it. We are very worried.”
Taliban authorities deny that any political opponents have been targeted, and said that all cases of abductions would be looked into, claiming that they may have been carried out by criminal gangs. One of the reasons that the Islamists had to enter Kabul, said Mr Mujahid, was because “the previous government was so incompetent… their security forces could not do anything to ensure security. We had to do something”.
The criminal population of Kabul has increased, however, due to the Taliban opening the gates of Pul-e-Charkhi prison, when they arrived in the capital, a tactic they had used before in other places captured. Freed inmates added to the ranks of the insurgents, but also let loose dangerous men in a place awash with guns.
Around a hundred men were detained at the airport where thousands had been rushing to after the city fell on Sunday. Many were trying to get to the military side of the airport and board flights chartered by foreign governments in order to escape danger from the Islamists.
Many Afghans who feel under threat from the Taliban are in hiding.
Samira Husseini, a women’s right campaigner, who attempted to leave the country before her flight was cancelled said: “I am being very careful, I have moved to a relation’s home, and I am trying to keep a low profile. I’ll try to leave again when the situation at the airport gets better.”
Ms Husseini was not persuaded by Mr Mujahid’s undertaking that “women are going to be working shoulder to shoulder with us… we would like to assure the international community that there will be no discrimination.”
“We’ve seen what has happened in the cities they have taken over, women at work have been told to go home, female students have been told that they have no place at colleges and universities, that is the reality we face”, she said.
Abroad, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarri said: “We will need to see what actually happens and I think we will need to see acts on the ground in terms of promises kept.”
Meanwhile, the European Union announced it was suspending payments of development assistance to Afghanistan.
The promise of avoiding creating enemies home and abroad also appeared to face a domestic challenge. Amrullah Saleh, vice-president in the fallen Afghan government declared on Twitter that he was now the “legitimate caretaker president” of Afghanistan.
It had been assumed that Mr Saleh had fled abroad like the president, Ashraf Ghani, and some other senior ministers.
But the former head of the NDS intelligence service, an implacable foe of the Taliban, called for the start of armed struggle: “We haven’t lost spirit & see enormous opportunities ahead. Useless caveats are finished JOIN THE RESISTANCE”.
Elsewhere in Kabul, flights to evacuate foreigners and Afghans trying to flee the country resumed after chaotic scenes at the airport 24 hours earlier. Around a dozen flights left on Tuesday though French defence minister Florence Parly said Taliban roadblocks at the airport was making access extremely difficult.
German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier said “the images of despair at Kabul airport shame the political west”, referring to chaotic scenes on Monday when thousands of Afghans desperate to flee swarmed the runway at Kabul airport.