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A look at Afghanistan 1 month into Taliban control

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

It's been one month since the Taliban reasserted control in Afghanistan. And they've gradually introduced rules and policies for how they intend to run the country this time around.

NPR's John Ruwitch has been following events in Afghanistan from neighboring Pakistan. John, when the Taliban took power, one of the main things people wondered about was how they would treat women. What have we learned so far?

JOHN RUWITCH, BYLINE: Well, things started off well, or at least it looked promising, right? In mid-August when the Taliban took over, a spokesman said that women and men had the same rights, basically. But if you remember in the 1990s - '96 to 2001 - women were basically banned from public life. And so this seemed to be a kind of a recognition that those type of harsh policies were a bad look. But after a few weeks, a different picture is really coming into focus. Women are in some areas not allowed to go to work. They can't teach boys, for example. Teenage girls haven't been allowed back to school yet. Some women have seen their access to higher education restricted. Taliban officials have commented on what women should or should not be wearing. And of course, in the new cabinet, the government, there are no women.

One of our producers spoke with a woman in Mazar-e-Sharif. She only wanted her last name used. It's Saeedi. And she was not optimistic.

SAEEDI: (Non-English language spoken).

RUWITCH: She says that the Taliban of 2021 are no different from the Taliban of 1996. Their promises have so far been hollow. You can't trust them, she says. And, you know, she used to work as a reporter and as a rights activist. She says now she just encounters difficulties leaving her home.

MARTINEZ: Wow. Taliban has what it has long really cherished - back in power - U.S. is gone. What has that mean for security on the ground in Afghanistan?

RUWITCH: Well, the war is over. That's the big thing. I mean, if that's - if there is a silver lining, that's it. Arguably, security in some respects has improved. You know, anecdotally, we hear that crime and corruption are down. But, you know, in part that may well be because the Taliban have restored the harsh punishments, which they were known for back in the '90s. We've seen videos and heard stories of alleged criminals who've been lashed to poles or whipped or killed and then had their bodies put on public display as a kind of graphic warning. You know, for a lot of people it's a scarier time.

I spoke to one man who didn't want to be quoted by name. And he says whenever he goes out shopping or to visit people, he just tries to stay off of the streets as much as possible - minimize his time out. It's just unpredictable. I guess, finally, in terms of security in and around the city of Jalalabad, to the east there've been a bunch of attacks - a string of attacks on Taliban by ISIS-K, the local Islamic State affiliate.

MARTINEZ: So that sounds almost like the Taliban isn't quite in full control.

RUWITCH: Yeah. I mean, in that region, it seems like they are certainly facing challenges. You know, when it comes to control, another intriguing thing that we're keeping an eye on is that there's - there are divisions within the Taliban, right? We've heard that there may have - may be disagreements at some levels among senior leaders. The Taliban deny this. But, you know, there are moderates within the Taliban, like the spokesman, for instance. There are hard-liners. And the Taliban also don't appear to have complete control over their foot soldiers.

I asked Madiha Afzal about this. She's at the Brookings Institution.

MADIHA AFZAL: They're young. They're uneducated. And all they've learned how to do is fight. And now that the fight has suddenly ended, perhaps unexpectedly early, what happens next, right? So they don't quite know how to transition into the next phase.

RUWITCH: So it's a bit of a grim situation there right now.

MARTINEZ: All right. That's NPR's John Ruwitch in Islamabad, Pakistan. John, thanks.

RUWITCH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.