The Taliban have offered a pledge of reconciliation, vowing no revenge against opponents and to respect women’s rights in a “different” rule of Afghanistan from two decades ago.
The announcements came on Tuesday night shortly after the return to Afghanistan of their co-founder, crowning the group’s astonishing comeback after being ousted by a US-led invasion in 2001.
With huge concerns globally about the Taliban’s brutal human rights record — and tens of thousands of Afghans still trying to flee the country — they held their first press conference from Kabul.
“All those in the opposite side are pardoned from A to Z,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told foreign and local reporters, revealing his identity for the first time.
“We will not seek revenge.”
Mujahid said the new regime would be “positively different” from their 1996-2001 stint, which was infamous for deaths by stoning, girls being banned from school and women from working in contact with men.
“If the question is based on ideology, and beliefs, there is no difference… but if we calculate it based on experience, maturity, and insight, no doubt there are many differences,” Mujahid told reporters.
A spokesman for the group in Doha, Suhail Shaheen, told Britain’s Sky News that women would not be required to wear the all-covering burqa, but did not say what attire would be acceptable.
Nevertheless, Afghans and foreigners continued to flee the country, with US and other nations stepping up evacuation airlifts from Kabul airport.
Desperate scenes from the airport at the start of the week have created searing images of Afghans terrified of the Taliban, and a diminished United States unable to protect them.
Some footage showed hundreds of people running alongside a US Air Force plane as it rolled down the runway, with some clinging to the side of it.
The United Nations Human Rights Council announced on Tuesday it would hold a special session on Afghanistan next week to address the “serious human rights concerns” under the Taliban.
President Joe Biden’s administration gave a non-committal response to the Taliban’s pledges of tolerance.
“If the Taliban says they are going to respect the rights of their citizens, we will be looking for them to uphold that statement and make good on that statement,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
Russia and China have quickly signalled their willingness to work with the Taliban.
Russia said Tuesday that the Taliban’s initial assurances had been a “positive signal” and that the militants were behaving in a “civilised manner”.