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Afghanistan turmoil

Taliban tighten iron grip 1st month in power

Afghan rulers revive monarchy constitution; Kabul University bans women for now

A Taliban soldier stands on a street in Kabul. Afghanistan's fundamentalist rulers have revived a constitution that grants paramount authority to a monarch.   © Reuters

NEW DELHI/NEW YORK -- In the first month since the U.S. completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Taliban have taken steps to curtail freedoms and impose their unchallenged authority on the country.

The Taliban have said they will suspend the constitution put in place by the previous government and restore a charter that was last valid in 1973. The constitutional monarchy that ruled at the time granted the king paramount authority.

"The Islamic Emirate will implement the constitution of the era of former King Mohammad Zaher Shah for the interim period without any content that is in conflict with Islamic Sharia and the principles of the Islamic Emirate," said Abdul Hakeem Sharaee, the Taliban's minister of Justice in an official announcement on Tuesday.

The old constitution includes explicit provisions for women's rights and religious freedom, but Sharaee's statement indicates that such elements will likely be considered in conflict with their principles of the Islamic Emirate.

"It's another one of these efforts to project itself as a more moderate version of its former self," said Michael Kugelman, a senior associate for South Asia at the Wilson Center. "But in reality, it's window dressing and nothing more," he said.

The move appears aimed at giving broad powers to the Taliban's supreme leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, until a new constitution is crafted. There are concerns that women will face further restrictions on employment and education.

The Taliban's brand of authoritarianism is already on display in central Daykundi Province, where land and homes have been repossessed by force.

"The Taliban declared that this place is their land, and around 700 families have been forced to relocate," one person said. The plundering could affect as many as 3,000 families, according to the source.

Following the Taliban's rapid takeover of the country in August, the group vowed to be more inclusive of women in government and society. But so far they have not followed through on those commitments.

The Taliban are likely to severely restrict education for girls.   © Reuters

This week the Chancellor of Kabul University, Mohammad Ashraf Ghairat said that women will not be allowed to matriculate or work outside the home "as long as a real Islamic environment is not provided for all."

Until the proper conditions are met, "women will not be allowed to come to universities or work. Islam first," he said in a tweet.

On Thursday, a demonstration by six women in Kabul calling for the right for women to return to school was dispersed with a burst of gunfire, according to Agence France-Presse.

"Don't break our pens, don't burn our books, don't close our schools," the women's banner read.

In other regions of the country, women are banned from owning mobile phones or going outdoors without being escorted by a male or a family member. Women who do leave the home are required to wear hijabs. Men are forbidden from shaving at barbershops or getting Western-style haircuts, local media report.

The Taliban's iron grip comes at a time when the international community is confronting the question of whether to recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan.

There were diverging opinions during last week's U.N. General Assembly speeches, but there was a uniform call for the Taliban to form an inclusive, representative government to earn international recognition.

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, a bloc of eight countries including India and Pakistan, canceled a meeting scheduled for last week over Taliban inclusion. Pakistan wanted to let the Taliban represent Afghanistan at the conference, but other members balked at the idea, according to Indian media.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said on Thursday progress had been made in Afghanistan during the 20 years of U.S. occupation, including in women's rights, Afghan youth's connectedness to the outside world and the adoption of new technology. Kirby said all of these things should be preserved.

"If the Taliban are sincere about what they claim they desire, which is some sort of sense of international legitimacy and international support ... then they would do well to maintain some of that progress, and to abide by some of their own promises about maintaining some of that progress," he said.

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