World The Taliban want the world to think they've changed. Early signs suggest otherwise
The Taliban have declared victory. Now they must reckon with a country freefalling into chaos
The last American military flight left the airport and disappeared into the Kabul sky on Monday -- and minutes later, the Taliban flooded the streets around the city's last exit point, filling the night with celebratory gunfire. © Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times/Shutterstock Taliban militants spilled onto the streets outside Kabul airport after the final Western military flight left on Monday. It was a decisive and humbling final chapter to the United States' longest war, a two-decade effort that unraveled spectacularly in the space of a few weeks.
The Taliban's stunningly swift takeover of Afghanistan has caused dread across much of the nation, asunder a militant group that repressed millions when last in power.
Under the Taliban's rule between 1996 and 2001, brutal floggings, amputations and public executions were common. Women were largely confined to their homes, and the death penalty was in place for offenses including female adultery, homosexuality and the rejection of Islam.
Fact check: Biden didn't 'gift' weapons to Taliban, hasn't proposed banning pistols
A widespread narrative on social media misleads on the value of military equipment left behind in Afghanistan."The current regime that just gifted the Taliban with $80+ billion worth of military grade weapons wants your 9mm pistols," reads an Aug. 17 text post on Facebook. "THINK ABOUT IT.
With the glare of the media again on Kabul, and Western forces staging a hasty retreat, the world is anxiously waiting to discover whether the new Taliban era will see a return to those days.
The militants have so far sought to present an image of themselves as more progressive, inclusive and restrained than the group that terrorized communities two decades ago -- claiming that they will not seek retribution against their political enemies, and that women will play an important role in society and have access to education.
But every pledge has been caveated by a reminder of the Taliban's "core values" -- a strict interpretation of Sharia law, which experts say has not been drastically re-imagined in the space of 20 years.
Al Qaeda, ISIS-K, and a trio of has-beens: The players in Taliban-led Afghanistan
Just over a week ago, the U.S.-backed Islamic Republic of Afghanistan was overthrown as the Taliban swept through Afghanistan and seized the capital with the aim of establishing the so-called “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan."As thousands of Americans and Afghan allies remain behind Taliban lines in Afghanistan as the U.S. evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport continues, multiple players in the country, including Taliban allies such as the Haqqani Network and al Qaeda, have strengthened their hand while anti-Taliban warlords have fled the country and anti-Taliban resistance fighters engage in a desperate fight with the country's new rulers.
The group's co-founder and deputy leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar arrived in Afghanistan Tuesday for the first time since he played a key role the last Taliban government -- a sign that the influence of the Taliban's old guard has not diminished.
And their early actions have dashed many Afghans' hopes that the Taliban might have changed in the intervening decades.
The group's fighters clashed with activists during the first major protest against their new regime on Wednesday, three witnesses told CNN, firing guns into a crowd and beating demonstrators in the city of Jalalabad.
Women have, fearing the new reality of life under Taliban control; husbands and fathers have been purchasing burqas in the fear that their female relatives will be safe only if they cover up.
Attacks on women across the country in recent weeks, as the Taliban regained the ascendency in Afghanistan's provinces, have provided a chilling preview of what may be in store for millions.
Latest on Afghanistan: Biden says US 'on a pace' for Aug. 31 pullout; Taliban block Afghans from airport
Biden added the deadline depends on Taliban cooperation, and added that he has asked the Depts. of State and Defense to prepare contingency plans.His remarks from the White House came the same day the Taliban said it would stop Afghans from trying to go to the Kabul airport and told women to stay home to stay for a time to stay safe, fueling worries about how the Taliban will treat women.
Who's in charge of the Taliban?
The Taliban's leader, Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada,after the group's previous leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour in a US airstrike in Pakistan.
He hails from a Taliban heartland in the Panjwai district of the southern Kandahar province, Sayed Mohammad Akbar Agha, a founding member of the Taliban who lives in Kabul and says he knows the new leader,
While Akhundzada was involved in the mujahideen struggle against the Soviet invasion in the 1980s, Agha said he was unlikely to have participated in front line military activities. He did judicial work between 1996 and 2001, the period of Taliban rule in Afghanistan, and after the group's fall from power in late 2001 he worked as Taliban chief justice, according to Agha.
Akhundzada has two deputies. One, Maulvi Mohammad Yaqub, is the head of the Taliban's military commission; on Tuesday he told fighters not to enter locals' homes or seize their assets, in a message distributed widely on the group's channels. He added in the message that "things will be decided later in an organized way on the leadership level."
A look at the men leading Taliban's 'caretaker' government in Afghanistan
Here's a look at who's who in the new Taliban "caretaker" government in Afghanistan -- including men designated by the U.S. and U.N. as terrorists -- and no women. The most senior acting ministers included a who's who of men designated by the U.S. and U.N. as terrorists, including several key members of the Haqqani network, a militant group responsible for a number of major, deadly attacks in Afghanistan.
Video: 'I don't believe the Taliban for a second' (CNN)
Sirajuddin Haqqani, the other deputy leader, wrote ain the New York Times last year in which he pitched any future Taliban government as moderate gatekeepers, and said "the killing and the maiming must stop."
Haqqani isand is wanted for questioning over a 2008 attack on a Kabul hotel that killed six people. The FBI is offering $5 million for information leading directly to his arrest.
The return of Taliban co-founder Baradar, a jihadi cleric who played a prominent role in their last government, to Afghanistan was confirmed by a spokesman for the Taliban's political bureau on Tuesday.
It marks the first time Baradar has set foot in the country for 20 years, and comes 11 years after he was arrested in neighboring Pakistan by the country's security forces.
He was released in order to be involved inadministration, and has since played a key role for the Taliban on the global stage.
Baradar spoke with Trump by phone, and the two sides' negotiations culminated inthat set the stage for the drawdown of American troops and the subsequent resurgence of the Taliban.
Opinion: A kinder, gentler Taliban?
The Taliban is promising peace and an amnesty, but it's instructive to look at what they did when they took control in Kabul in 1996, writes Peter Bergen. The Taliban imposed their ultra-purist vision of Islam on much of the country. Women had to wear the burqa and stay at home unless accompanied by a male relative. Music, television and even kite flying were banned. There was no independent Afghan media; only Radio Shariat that blared Taliban propaganda.In an unsettling echo of how the Nazis treated the Jews, the Taliban forced the country's miniscule Hindu population to wear distinctive clothing.
Last month Baradar alsoas the Taliban was advancing across Afghanistan -- an early sign of warming ties between Beijing and the militant group.
The Taliban have a number of different formal commissions for political, intelligence, military and cultural matters.
Their Preaching and Guidance Commission has met with surrendered Afghan soldiers, officers and politicians in recent days and is behind the group's pledge of amnesty for those involved in the US-backed government.
The Taliban also have a political office in Doha, Qatar, which will likely play a far more visible role on the world stage when the group controls Afghanistan's government.
What will a Taliban regime look like?
Members of the Taliban's sophisticated communications operation have been increasingly visible in the first days of the new regime, telling international journalists at every opportunity that the group will form an "inclusive Islamic government."
Key among their promises is that the rights of women will be protected. But when pressed on those assurances at a media conference on Tuesday, the group's spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that role would be "within the framework of Sharia law ... in all sectors in society, where they are required, it will be within this framework."
It is questionable whether the Taliban's harsh interpretation of Sharia law, a set of principles that govern the moral and religious lives of Muslims, has drastically changed in the past two decades.
Sharia law was established 1,400 years ago and can only be amended or updated with extreme care by religious scholars, experts in the region told CNN.
Mullah's rise charts Taliban's long road back to power
The Taliban's top political leader, who made a triumphal return to Afghanistan this week, battled the U.S. and its allies for decades but then signed a landmark peace agreement with the Trump administration. Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar is now expected to play a key role in negotiations between the Taliban and officials from the Afghan government that the militant group deposed in its blitz across the country. The Taliban say they seek an “inclusive, Islamic” government and claim they have become more moderate since they last held power.
When last in power, the Taliban used Sharia law as justification for scores of violent and repressive punishments, including public executions. Alleged adulterers were stoned to death and suspected theft punished by amputation.
Whether such brutal methods will resume is unclear -- but concerning signs are already emerging. Human Rights Watch said last month that advancing Taliban forces were targeting critics for attack, despite public promises that they had ordered fighters to act with restraint.
Theby two Taliban fighters last month sparked fear in Kandahar.
And ain a northern Afghanistan village on July 12, reported by CNN, has fueled fears that girls and women will again be targeted.
The international community has largely greeted the Taliban's pledges with skepticism.
"Taliban spokespeople have issued a number of statements in recent days, including pledging an amnesty for those who worked for the previous Government," the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville, said in a statement on Tuesday.
"They have also pledged to be inclusive. They have said women can work and girls can go to school. Such promises will need to be honoured, and for the time being -- again understandably, given past history -- these declarations have been greeted with some skepticism. Nevertheless, the promises have been made, and whether or not they are honoured or broken will be closely scrutinized," he said.
"We call on the Taliban to demonstrate through their actions, not just their words, that the fears for the safety of so many people from so many different walks of life are addressed."
Taliban promise to uphold rights for women and US allies, but White House is skeptical .
The Taliban said they won't hurt women. U.S. military commanders work with the militant group to allow Americans and some Afghans to evacuate.Before the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, women virtually had no rights under the fundamentalist Taliban's oppressive rule. Most were forced to quit their jobs and stay at home, denied access to education and health care, enduring high rates of illiteracy and maternal mortality.