HUNDREDS OF Taliban fighters took to the streets of Kabul on Monday to celebrate the first anniversary of their takeover of Afghanistan, riding in open pick-up trucks, holding automatic guns and waving their group’s white-and-black flags.
The Taliban regime marked the occasion with sedate victory speeches by senior leaders inside a state-media auditorium in the high-security Green Zone, close to the Indian Embassy. But few civilians, either on the streets or indoors, took part in the celebrations — and no women at all.
However, a small group of women reportedly met in secret at a house in Kabul to mark their protest, and pledged to continue their resistance against the Taliban. A statement by the group, RAWA (Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan), denounced the Taliban for being anti-women and blamed the US for the “planned” handover of power last year.
On the streets, fighters congregated through the day at a prominent roundabout in Kabul named after Ahmad Shah Massoud, whose Northern Alliance was the main resistance to the Taliban in the 1990s before he was killed by an Al Qaeda suicide bomber two days ahead of the 9/11 attacks in the US.
“We defeated America, and we won our independence. That is what we are celebrating here,” said Abdul Qahar Agha Jan, from Laghman province, south of Kabul. He said he was working in the Ministry of Defence.
He said the decision to congregate at Massoud Circle, close to the US Embassy, was a message that the Taliban now rule Afghanistan. “We are in power. This place belongs to all Afghans. We also want to tell other mujahideen and the family members of Ahmad Shah Massoud that they come here and live with us in peace,” said Agha Jan.
Some of the fighters were holding posters of the Haqqani group patriarch, Jalaluddin Haqqani, who died in 2018. A middle-aged Talib delivered a speech denouncing the recent US drone strike in Kabul to kill Ayman Al Zawahiri, and declared that the Americans were “lying” that they had eliminated the Al Qaeda leader.
One group of Taliban in the back of a sand-coloured Toyota pick-up were dressed in US army uniforms with American military gear — night-vision equipment, goggles, sand-coloured face masks and M4 automatic carbines. As religious songs blared from portable public address systems, a Talib holding an M4 said the weapon had been left behind by the “Amreeki” while another held a Soviet-era gun, boasting that it “worked very well”.
Across the roundabout was a huge concrete security wall around a government ministry, painted with slogans hailing the Taliban’s victory last year. “Freedom is as beautiful as spring,” one slogan proclaimed. “The people are our own, and we are from the people,” another read.
Many Taliban fighters also gathered at the Wazir Mohammed Akbar Khan hill, a few kilometres from the roundabout, anticipating a formal flag-hoisting on top. With a song praising jihad in the background, they did the “atan” (a traditional pashtun dance) around a flagpole on which the Afghan Republican flag gifted by India had flown until the collapse of the republic last year.
Asked why no women were participating, a Talib said, “they have their own work to do”; another said “it was not allowed under sharia”; and, a third assured that “you will see women next year”.
In the afternoon, all roads led to the auditorium of state-owned Radio Television Afghanistan, where children sang a song in praise of Mullah Omar, the Taliban founder who died in 2013, with lines about how peace had returned to Afghanistan. VIPs spoke about the government’s achievements. The road to the Green Zone was jammed with vehicles, including unmarked Toyota Prados ferrying Taliban leaders to the function. But the top leadership was not present, including Sirajuddin Haqqani.
Mullah Omar’s son Mullah Yaqoub, who heads the defence ministry, said the Taliban had restored security in the country. “Those who are plotting rebellion will be punished, and their plans defeated,” he said.
“We should evaluate our performance of the year and ask ourselves if it is enough or not,” he said, adding that international recognition, sanctions and blacklists did not matter. “Our efforts should be directed to serve this country and make progress,” he said.
Amir Khan Muttaqi, who is in charge of the foreign ministry, said Afghanistan wants good relations with all countries. He said the Taliban’s foreign policy was geared towards maintaining a balance in the region. “We don’t want to get into trouble with anyone. We have satisfied all countries that we will not allow the soil of Afghanistan to be used against anyone” he said.
Although the day had been declared an official holiday, most of Kabul’s residents seemed to have decided not to step out, making this a Taliban-only celebration. At the secret protest by RAWA, the participants reportedly pledged that their voices would not be drowned by gunfire — a reference to the aerial firing that the Taliban resorted to on Saturday to disperse a protest by women demanding “work, bread and education”.
In a statement, RAWA declared that the women of Afghanistan would continue to resist. “It was easily predictable that women and girls would be the prime victims of this barbaric rule and are facing devastating and inhumane suppression in all areas of life. However, the women of our country proved that no force could impose their reactionary ideologies or hold them captive inside their homes,” it said.
“Afghan women made history by raising the flag of struggle against the Taliban and for freedom and justice. Since the first days of Taliban’s takeover, these women have protested on the streets without any fear of guns or whiplashes; they were suppressed, threatened, and humiliated, but bravely continued their fight,” RAWA said.
It said that “the inquisition-based government” was “so reactionary, abhorred, and brutal” that no country had officially recognised it, “not even their supporters and patrons”. It denounced the US for “claims that they were surprised” by the fall of Kabul and the escape of President Ashraf Ghani — and for supporting the Taliban regime by giving it financial assistance.
“We have full faith in this great struggle and the extraordinary potential hidden in our Afghan women, and we warmly shake the hands of every justice-seeking force and individual in this crucial battle for Afghanistan and its people and to continue hoisting the banner of struggle against Taliban and Jihadi fundamentalism,” the statement said.