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Taliban mark turbulent first year in power in Afghanistan with national holiday

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The Taliban celebrated the first anniversary of their return to power in Afghanistan with a national holiday on Monday, after a turbulent year in which women’s rights were crushed and a humanitarian crisis worsened.

Exactly one year ago, hardened Islamists captured Kabul after their national lightning strike against government forces ended 20 years of US-led military intervention.

“We have fulfilled the obligation of jihad and liberated our country,” said Niamatullah Hekmat, a fighter who entered Kabul on August 15 last year, just hours after then-President Ashraf Ghani fled the country.

A chaotic withdrawal of foreign troops lasted until August 31, with tens of thousands of people rushing to the Kabul airport in hopes of being evacuated on a flight from Afghanistan.

Footage of crowds storming the airport, climbing on top of planes — and some clinging to a departing US military cargo plane as it rolled off the runway — was broadcast on news bulletins around the world.

Authorities have so far announced no official celebrations to mark the anniversary, but state television said it would air special programs.

However, Taliban fighters were happy that their movement was now in power – even as aid agencies say half of the country’s 38 million people live in extreme poverty.

“The time we entered Kabul and when the Americans left were moments of joy,” said Hekmat, now a member of the special forces guarding the presidential palace.

‘Life has lost its meaning’

But for ordinary Afghans – especially women – the return of the Taliban has only added to the hardship.

Initially, the Taliban promised a softer version of the harsh Islamic rule that characterized their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001.

But many restrictions have been imposed on women to conform to the movement’s strict view of Islam.

Tens of thousands of girls have been excluded from secondary schools, while women have been denied access to many government jobs.

And in May, they were ordered to cover themselves completely in public, ideally with an all-encompassing burqa.

“From the day they came, life has lost its meaning,” said Ogai Amail, a resident of Kabul.

“Everything has been taken from us, they have even invaded our personal space,” she said.

On Saturday, Taliban fighters beat female protesters and fired rifles into the air to disperse their demonstration in Kabul.

While Afghans recognize that violence has abated since the Taliban took power, the humanitarian crisis has left many helpless.

“People who come to our stores complain so much about high prices that we shopkeepers have come to hate ourselves,” said Noor Mohammad, a shopkeeper from Kandahar, the de facto center of power of the Taliban.

For Taliban fighters, however, the joy of victory overshadows the current economic crisis.

“We may be poor, we may face hardship, but the white flag of Islam will now fly high in Afghanistan forever,” said a fighter guarding a public park in Kabul.

(AFP)

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