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Fact check: Have Taliban kept their promises?

Michaela Cavanagh | Uta Steinwehr | Jan D. Walter | Ahmad Hakimi
August 11, 2022

A year ago, the Taliban retook Kabul. In their first press conference after seizing power in Afghanistan, they surprised the world with the announcement of moderate policies. A key pledge was to address women's rights.

A girl sits in front of a bakery in the crowd with Afghan women, faces covered, waiting to receive bread in Kabul
The Taliban promised that 'women are going to be very active in the society'Image: Ali Khara/File Photo/REUTERS

Women's rights will be respected within the norms of Islamic law

Claim: The group's spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said in his first press conference in August 2021: "Women are going to be very active in the society, but within the framework of Islam." Within those frameworks, they would be allowed to work and study.

DW fact check: False

When the Taliban took power, many feared a regime as harsh on women as under the group's last rule in the 1990s. One year on, the Taliban have implemented many restrictions on women's lives.

 Women must cover themselves from head to toe in public. If a woman doesn't cover her face outside the home, her father or closest male relative could be imprisoned or fired from government jobs. Women can't board planes without a male guardian, who has to be her husband or a close male relative past puberty.

Talbian spokes man Zabihullah Mujahid in front of media labeled microphones
Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the Taliban would pursue more moderate policiesImage: Rahmat Gul/AP Photo/picture alliance

Entry to public parks in Afghanistan is limited by gender. Three days are reserved for women, four for men. However, according to a decree, it is strongly recommended that women leave home only when necessary.

The Taliban quote safety concerns for making such decisions. But scholars say these kinds of restrictions are not covered by Islamic law. Sayed Abdul Hadi Hedayat, an Afghanistan-based religious scholar, is opposed to the Taliban's way of imposing rules on Afghan women to cover their bodies.

"There is a consensus among Muslim clerics and countries on the hijab itself, but there are different opinions about the type of hijab for women," he told DW, adding that according to Islam face, hands and feet are not part of the areas that should be covered.

The Taliban have also restricted access to work in certain sectors, as outlined in a report by  Amnesty International. "Most female government employees have been told to stay at home, with the exception of those working in certain sectors such as health and education," the report said. "The Taliban's policy appears to be that they will only allow women who cannot be replaced by men to keep working." Many women in high-level positions, even in the private sector, have been dismissed.

A class of some five dozens of girls covered with colored scarfs sitting on the sand floor in front of a sandy buildung
Volunteers teach Afghan girls who are unable to attend middle and high schoolImage: Mohammad Noori/AA/picture alliance

This policy also contravenes basic Islamic understanding. "Islam treated women equally, particularly in the field of education," said Farid Younos, a retired professor of Middle Eastern studies and Islamic philosophy at California State University, East Bay. Younos said that women have played a major role in education in history, and cites the example of the Prophet Muhammad's wife and daughter.

Both Hedayat and Younos said that according to Islamic teachings, education is mandatory for both men and women. "Islamic Sharia is not against the education and working of women because we won't have a functioning and prosper society without the role of women," said Hedayat.

Women who have protested against the Taliban's restrictions and policies have been harassed, threatened, arrested and even tortured, said Amnesty International.

Women in hijab showing their faces protesting holding boards
Only about a dozen of women dared to protest in May against mandatory face covering in publicImage: Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images

Girls will be able to attend high school

Claim: While younger girls were able to resume education in segregated classes a few weeks after the Taliban seized power, female students in secondary schools have not been able to go back. On September 21, Taliban spokesperson Mujahid said the "Ministry of Education is working hard to provide the ground for the education of high school girls as soon as possible." No time frame was mentioned.

DW fact check: False

In March, the Education Ministry announced that classes would open for all students, including girls. However, one day later, as girls attended school for the first time, the ministry reversed the order, calling for female students to leave school. The ministry blamed a lack of teachers and school uniform issues, and claimed it would open schools up to girls once a plan was drawn up in accordance with "Islamic law and Afghan culture." Since then, nothing has changed.

Young women with hijab and face masks attend class in a classroom equipped with wooden benches and tables
On March 23, girls were allowed to attend high school — for exactly one dayImage: Ahmad Sahel Arman/AFP/Getty Images

General amnesty for former enemies

Claim: On August 17, 2021, Mujahid said: "I would like to assure all the compatriots, whether they were translators, whether they were with military activities or whether they were civilians, all of them have been important. Nobody is going to be treated with revenge." And: "Thousands of soldiers who have fought us for 20 years, after the occupation, all of them have been pardoned."

DW fact check: False

After an initial "wave of reprisal killings […] unleashed during the Taliban takeover", as Amnesty International puts it, and a "door-to-door manhunt" for alleged "collaborators" in the days surrounding the Taliban's seizure of power in Kabul, it appears the Islamists have not carried out the feared sweeping revenge campaign against their former enemies.

However, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has recorded at least 160 extrajudicial killings, 178 arbitrary arrests, 23 incommunicado arrests and 56 cases of torture of former government and security officials committed by the Taliban authorities between August 15, 2021 and June 15, 2022. The UNAMA report on Human Rights in Afghanistan concludes that the amnesty was violated on several occasions.

These figures do not include dozens of extrajudicial killings, ill treatment and arbitrary arrests of alleged members of the "Islamic State - Khorasan Province" and the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRF). The NRF defended the Panjshir Valley from Taliban forces until September last year, and is still attempting to wrest back control in the region.

In June, Amnesty International reported "the use of torture, extrajudicial executions and arbitrary arrest of civilians (accused of being NRF members) by the Taliban in Panjshir province." Zaman Sultani, a South Asia researcher with Amnesty described this practice as "a growing pattern." 

'No threat or reprisal will be carried out against journalists'

Claim: Taliban spokesmen have reiterated this promise given to Reporters Without Borders (RSF) claiming their commitment to impartial media and press freedom — as long as they do not interfere with the Taliban's "cultural framework."

DW fact check: False

Only days after taking power in Kabul, Taliban fighters killed a relative of a DW journalist they were hunting. In September 2021, the International Federation of Journalists reported that Fahim Dashti, the head of Afghanistan's National Journalists Union was killed in a clash between Taliban and NRF fighters.

Rights organizations say they have no concrete evidence that journalists have been killed by the Taliban. However, there is little doubt that press freedom has deteriorated ever since the Taliban conquered Kabul. Of the over 10,000 people working in Afghan newsrooms in July 2021, only 4,360 were still working in December, according to a report by RSF published at the end of last year. Moreover, it said 231 media outlets out of 543 operating in the summer of 2021 disappeared during the first three months of the Taliban's rule. 

 A survey conducted by the Afghan journalists' union and the IJF found that 318 national media outlets have been shut down since the Taliban took over.

In January, a Taliban spokesman told DW that the regime had not shut down any media stations in the country. Yet, some had stopped working after running out of funding, he said. In the same interview, he admitted that media coverage in Afghanistan had to follow rules that might be perceived as very restrictive in Western countries.

In March, the Taliban blocked several international media from broadcasting in Afghanistan, including the BBC, Voice of America and DW. A month later, at least a dozen journalists were arrested in Afghanistan, prompting the UN to call on the Taliban to stop arbitrary detentions of journalists.

According to the survey by the journalists' union, lack of access to information, self-censorship, fear of reprisals and the economic crisis were the main drivers of what the report calls an "unprecedented collapse of the Afghan media." While a third of the respondents said they distrusted local and national media, almost nine out of 10 said they trusted international media stations.

No more illegal drugs from Afghanistan

Claim: After the Taliban's takeover, spokesman Mujahid said: "We are assuring our countrymen and women and the international community [that] we will not produce any narcotics." He reminded the world that the Taliban brought poppy-based drug production to zero back in 2000, and called for international help to provide alternative crops.

DW fact check: Unproven

Afghanistan has been by far the world's biggest producer and exporter of heroin and opium for decades. In 2020, the country provided some 85% of all non-pharmaceutical opioids worldwide, according to  research by the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime.

Earlier this year, the Taliban banned poppy cultivation and the harvest in early April, threatening to put farmers in prison and burn their fields. Mullah Abdul Haq Akhund, the deputy interior minister for counternarcotics, told The Associated Press that the Taliban were working with other governments and nongovernmental organizations to find alternative crops to provide farmers with an income.

Two men on an old fashioned tractor equipped with a harrow riding over a green field in a dusty landscape
Drug trafficking is a vital part of the country's economyImage: Abdul Khaliq/AP Photo/picture alliance

So far, the Taliban seem to be sticking to this promise, and — as Mujahid pointed out — they have a track record in the field. According to a 2004 World bank study, poppy production in Afghanistan plummeted to almost zero after the Taliban cultivation ban in 2000. It only soared again after the United States toppled the regime in late 2001.

However, experts question how effective and sustainable the effort to eradicate opioid production will be this time, notwithstanding that success in this endeavor could have a positive impact on foreign relations. After all, drug trafficking is a vital part of the country's economy, generating revenues between $1.8 billion (€1.7 billion) and $2.7 billion in 2021. The total value of opiates made up 9% to 14% of the Afghan GDP.

Given other global challenges and substantial human rights issues, foreign aid could fall short of both the Taliban's expectations and the country's financial needs to cope with the economic downside of ending drug production, said South Asia analyst Shehryar Fazli

"Going by the past record, curbing the opium trade could provide the Taliban's armed rivals with the same opportunity to exploit rural discontent that eradication efforts under the republic gave the Taliban insurgency," he said.

Additional reporting by Rachel Baig and Shakila Ebrahimkhil

Edited by: Rob Mudge

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