Taliban offensive in Afghanistan
International 17/08/2021

Women continue to anchor Afghan TV news with their faces uncovered

The military leader of the Taliban forbids his militiamen to break into people's houses

3 min
Taliban militiamen on patrol in Kandahar city

BarcelonaThere is no change, at least not apparently. After a day of stoppage, this Tuesday the presenters of private channel Tolo TV, which is the most progressive channel in Afghanistan and also the most viewed, have reappeared on screen with a veil covering their heads but showing their faces. That is, as they have always done since the channel started broadcasting in 2004. And not only this: the channel -which in the past has been the target of Taliban attacks- and all other national TV channels in the country have broadcast this morning a message from the military leader of the Taliban, in which he forbids his militiamen to break into people's houses and to steal private vehicles. Since the Taliban entered Kabul on Sunday, they have seized private cars driving through the city at gun point.

"I ask our co-religionists not to enter houses or seize vehicles for the moment, not even those belonging to the government. We will do this later, step by step. We will consider it theft to take people's weapons and money and whoever does it will be punished", were the exact words of the Taliban military leader Maulavi Yaqub, whose image did not appear on the screen. Only his voice could be heard.

Those who did show their faces were Tolo TV channel journalists, who returned to work on Tuesday and resumed the news. One of them, Beheshta Argand, even interviewed a Taliban spokesman on the set and another, Hasiba Atakpal, took to the streets to report. According to Atakpal very few woman are to be seen no the streets - almost all of them have locked themselves up at home out of fear.

Under the Taliban regime, between 1996 and 2001, all media were banned in Afghanistan. There was only one radio station, Radio Sharia, on which the radicals reported their military advances and recited fragments of the Quran. Likewise, women were not allowed to participate in public life and their image was not allowed to appear anywhere. Television and photographs of people, both women and men, were forbidden.

"The Taliban have changed in the sense that they now understand the importance of using the media. It is something they have learnt from Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. But in terms of human rights, women's rights or freedom of the press, it's hard to see that they have changed much," journalist and author Ahmed Rashid, author of the book Taliban, and possibly the most knowledgeable writer about this Islamist movement. "They announced that girls could go to school until the 12th grade [i.e. age 18], but not to university. So we don't know what will happen because in the 1990s some Taliban commanders acted one way in some parts of Afghanistan and another way in others," he adds.

During the last 20 years of international presence in Afghanistan, women could study, work outside the home and even become members of parliament. However, their rights were limited, as the men in their family (husband, father or brothers) had the final say, i.e. they were the ones who decided what they could and could not do. The burqa continued to be a common garment, especially in the most insecure areas. In Kabul most women simply covered their heads with a veil when they went out on the street. However, none of them wore short sleeves, let alone showed their legs.

Transfer of power

On the other hand, also on Tuesday the former Afghan President Hamid Karzai - who headed the government between 2001 and 2014 - and the head of negotiations with the Taliban, Abdullah Abdullah, have released a video on social networks in which they say they are working "with the respectable Islamic movement of the Taliban" for the transfer of power in the country.