Asia

Taliban Promise Peace, but Doubt and Fear Persist

In their first statement since taking control, the Taliban hinted at a rule unlike their brutal regime a generation ago, trying to placate skeptics.



By Mujib Mashal and Richard Pérez-Peña

KABUL, Afghanistan — For the first time since retaking power in Afghanistan, the Taliban’s leaders on Tuesday sketched out what their control of the country could look like, promising peace at home and urging the world to look past their history of violence and repression.

“We don’t want Afghanistan to be a battlefield anymore — from today onward, war is over,” said Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s longtime chief spokesman, in a news conference in Kabul, the capital.

Mr. Mujahid, a high-ranking leader, said the Taliban had declared a blanket amnesty, vowing no reprisals against former enemies. And the group has in some places appealed to civil servants — including women — to continue to go to work.

After days of uncertainty around the world over Afghanistan’s swift fall to a group notorious for its brutality, Mr. Mujahid’s words, delivered in a restrained tone, were a glimpse into a Taliban desire to portray themselves as ready to join the international mainstream.

But much of the world is wary of their reassurances. After taking over Afghanistan in 1996, the Taliban imposed their harsh interpretation of Islam with punishments like floggings, amputations and mass executions.

On Tuesday, a Biden administration official confirmed that any central bank assets the Afghan government had kept in the United States would not be available to the Taliban.

Many Afghans, too, remain utterly unconvinced by the new face presented by the Taliban, and its promises of political pluralism and women’s and minority rights.

On Tuesday, fearful Afghans hunkered down in their homes or attempted to flee, joining the frenzied rush to Kabul’s airport, which continued to be a scene of mass desperation and chaos two days after the Taliban entered the city. The group said its fighters were acting to restore order, but in some corners, they were also inflicting fear.

More broadly, the United Nations secretary-general warned of having received “chilling reports of severe restrictions on human rights” across Afghanistan since the Taliban began its takeover.

The Taliban’s vows of moderation unfolded in an extraordinary fashion on Tuesday evening, when Mr. Mujahid, showing his face in public for the first time, held a news conference in the same room where the government had held its press briefings just days earlier.

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