Taliban marks second anniversary of Kabul takeover

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Amid waving flags and strict security precautions, the Taliban on Tuesday marked two years since the group stormed into the Afghan capital and upended the lives of millions of Afghans, creating a dilemma for the international community that has since only grown.

The Taliban-run government has yet to be recognized by any country and the prospect of Western embassies returning to Kabul appears more remote now than one year ago, as a crackdown on women’s rights to education or work has accelerated. While global frustration with the group limits the inflow of aid, Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis is worsening with around two-thirds of the population now in need of assistance.

In a joint statement, U.N. human rights experts said that two years into Taliban rule, it is clear that “the concept of a ‘reformed’ Taliban has been exposed as mistaken.” All indications point in the direction of “an accelerated, systematic, and all engulfing system of segregation, marginalization and persecution,” they wrote.

The Taliban leadership, marking Tuesday’s anniversary as their “independence day,” argued that its many critics don’t want to see the truth. In a defiant statement, the group’s leadership applauded itself for ensuring “overall security” in a country where attacks have become rarer over the past two years, there is unity “under a single leadership,” and an “Islamic system” governs through sharia law.

Security forces handed out Taliban flags to children and students at ceremonies marking the U.S. withdrawal, according to footage distributed by the group, and Taliban officials wished “Happy Freedom Day” on messaging apps. In western Afghanistan’s Herat region, supporters chanted: “Death to the Europeans, death to the Westerners, long live the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, death to the Americans,” Agence France-Presse reported.

But two years after taking over Kabul’s ministries, the Taliban’s relations with the world are more complex than the chants of its supporters. While the group says it will follow its agenda regardless of foreign criticism, it also appears to crave international recognition. Earlier this week, a senior leader in the Taliban-appointed government, Abdul Kabir, celebrated that 16 countries have now accredited the regime’s diplomats.

The group has highlighted economic and security interests, as rivals to the United States are moving to exploit the country’s coveted metal reserves for electric vehicles.

When the Taliban swept into Kabul two years ago, the end of more than two decades of war allowed the group to embark on projects that have drawn some popular support, including major efforts to take down the capital city’s once-omnipresent blast walls and replace them with new roads.

But away from the widening avenues of central Kabul, their rule has crushed livelihoods and sowed anxiety among women who can no longer go to school or work, the group’s opponents say. While there were no immediate signs of public anti-Taliban protests in Afghanistan on Tuesday, a group of female opponents released a written statement, calling on “the people of Afghanistan, both men and women” to stand against policies that have “dehumanized” women.

When a group of women protested against the Taliban last month, security forces broke it up using fire hoses and shooting into the air.

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The country’s economy remains isolated and women and girls have been primarily impacted — they account for almost 80 percent of those in need of assistance, said Salma Ben Aissa, the International Rescue Committee’s Afghanistan Director, in a statement. One of the last refuges of female workers, beauty salons, were ordered to shut last month. The Taliban has also resumed corporal punishments, sparking outrage abroad.

“People in Afghanistan are living a humanitarian and human rights nightmare under Taliban rule,” Fereshta Abbasi, an Afghanistan researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

Many activists watched Tuesday’s anniversary from abroad. “We used to be hopeful about the future,” said a 24-year old female protester who is now in Qatar, and who did not want to provide her name to protect relatives who are still in Afghanistan. Today, “all the dreams are buried” and “the future is dark and uncertain,” she said.

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She and others say there is mounting disappointment among activists about what they see as empty threats from the international community.

“It’s not enough for the world just to condemn,” she said.

Haq Nawaz Khan contributed to this report.

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