Taliban raise their flag over Afghan presidential palace on 20th anniversary of 9/11 attacks

By Kathy Gannon PA & Barry Ellams

The Taliban have raised their trademark white flag over the Afghan presidential palace on the day the US and the world marked the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

The banner, emblazoned with a Koranic verse, was hoisted by Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund, the prime minister of the Taliban interim government, in a low-key ceremony.

The flag-raising marked the official start of the work of the new government, a spokesman said.

The composition of the all-male, all-Taliban government was announced earlier this week and was met with disappointment by the international community which had hoped the Taliban would make good on an earlier promise of an inclusive line-up.

Two decades ago, the Taliban ruled Afghanistan with a heavy hand. Television was banned, and on September 11 2001, the day of the horrific attacks on America, the news spread from crackling radios across the darkened streets of the Afghan capital of Kabul.

The city rarely had electricity and barely a million people lived in Kabul at the time.

It took the US-led coalition just two months to drive the Taliban from the capital and by December 7 2001, they were defeated, driven from their last holdout in southern Kandahar, their spiritual heartland.

Twenty years later, the Taliban are back in Kabul. America has departed, ending its “forever war” two weeks before the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and two weeks after the Taliban returned to the Afghan capital on August 15.
Some things have changed since the first period of Taliban rule in the 1990s.

A man sells Taliban flags in Herat province, west of Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Hamed Sarfarazi) ((AP Photo/Hamed Sarfarazi))

This time, the gun-toting fighters do not race through the city streets in their pickups. Instead, they inch through chaotic, clogged traffic in the city of more than five million.

The Taliban have begun issuing harsh edicts that have hit women hardest, such as banning women’s sports. They have also used violence to stop women demanding equal rights from protesting.

Inside a high-end women’s store in the city’s Karte Se neighborhood on Saturday, Marzia Hamidi, a Taekwondo competitor with ambitions of being a national champion, said the return of the Taliban has crushed her dreams.

She was among the women attacked by the Taliban and called “agents of the west” during one of the recent protests. She said she is not surprised about America’s withdrawal.

“This year or next year, they had to leave eventually,” she said. “They came for their own interest and they left for their interest.”

Ms Hamidi is hoping the Taliban will relent and ease their restrictions, but with a glance toward the store owner, Faisal Naziri, she said “most men in Afghanistan agree with what the Taliban say about women and their rules against them”.

On Saturday, the Taliban even orchestrated a women’s march of their own.

This one involved dozens of women obscured from head to toe, hidden behind layers of black veils.

They filled an auditorium at Kabul University’s education centre in a well-choreographed snub to the past 20 years of western efforts to empower women.

Speakers read from scripted speeches celebrating the Taliban victory over a west they charged was anti-Islam.

The women marched briefly outside the centre grounds, waving placards saying “the women who left don’t represent us”, referring to the many thousands who fled in fear of a Taliban crackdown on women’s rights. “We don’t want co-education,” read another banner.

At a book shop in Kabul’s Karte Sangi neighborhood, Atta Zakiri, a self-declared civil society activist said America was wrong to attack Afghanistan after 9/11.

He blamed the invasion that followed the 9/11 attacks for creating another generation of hardline Taliban fighters.

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