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Two days after the last American troops left Afghanistan, Taliban rulers are struggling to keep the country functioning. Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department is trying to secure the remaining Americans and Afghan allies' exit. As the world waits to see how the Taliban governs, Amna Nawaz speaks to Shaharzad Akbar, chairperson of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, about the issue.
Two days after the United States withdrew its last troops from Afghanistan. The new Taliban rulers are struggling to get the country fully functioning again. Shuttered banks, lack of enough food and continued instability all plagued the nation.
Meantime, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the State Department would take the lead in securing the exit of the Americans who are left there, as well as thousands of Afghans allies.
Amna Nawaz reports.
On the streets of Kabul, countless vendors are out to sell, but no one is buying. In Afghanistan's first days without foreign forces, the cost of basic goods is swelling, the national currency is plummeting, and the economy is at a standstill.
And it's now the Taliban's job to fix it. Elsewhere in the capital, bank lines stretch down the block.
Man (through translator):
All prices have risen, and we cannot buy anything. And people have a big economic problem, because the banks are closed and the market conditions are not good. There are no job opportunities, and no one can afford to buy anything.
Ali Mustafa is a reporter with TRT World — that's Turkey's national broadcaster — and is in Kabul.
Ali Mustafa, TRT World:
It's brimming. And there seems to be a lot of frustration on the streets. There are long lines outside banks. There are groups of Talibs that move around. They do not disturb anyone.
They have set up checkpoints. They do check vehicles and so on and so forth, but it's almost as if they're holding back. They're waiting on the streets.
He said that, already, women are anticipating fewer freedoms, even if the Taliban says it will be more lenient.
There are women on the streets, not as much as there were before, but it's quite muted. They're not in restaurants, for example.
They are usually accompanied by men. But that isn't to say the Taliban are — at least in Kabul, have taken a harsher tone towards women. They're quite tolerant towards them. And, in fact, if you speak to some leaders, especially the younger leaders who are more educated, they do believe in rights for women.
But, as with anything, there isn't just one Taliban. There are many Taliban.
For those that back the Taliban, there is joy. Last night in Kandahar, cell phone footage showed fireworks celebrating the takeover.
Today, Taliban fighters drove U.S.-armored vehicles through the city streets. In a southeastern Afghan city, residents held a mock funeral procession with coffins draped in the flags of U.S. and NATO powers.
In the only remaining province challenging the takeover, a senior Taliban leader said today they had surrounded Afghan resistance fighters. But the Taliban now have a country to run.
This week, spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said they are working to restore normalcy and to establish a new government.
Zabihullah Mujahid, Taliban Spokesman (through translator):
Firstly, one of the most important services is security, that people are provided with good security and the rule of law is established. Initial works have also begun in the banking sector and have started their services.
In the media sector, we have also ensured that the system is running. We hope that the government is announced soon and everything gets back to normal.
Back in Washington, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told reporters the Defense Department is transitioning from a military mission to a diplomatic one.
Lloyd Austin, US Defense Secretary:
Now the war is over and we're entering a new chapter, one in — where our diplomats and our interagency partners take the lead. We are part of an urgent team effort to move Afghan evacuees out of temporary housing in intermediate staging bases in the Gulf and in Europe, and on to begin new lives.
On Capitol Hill today, Alabama Representative Mike Rogers said America is less safe because of President Biden's decisions.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL):
We must find out what advice President Biden was given or ignored in making these disastrous decisions. We must find out exactly how many Americans President Biden left behind. We must find out how much military equipment President Biden left to the Taliban.
At Kabul's international airport this week, Taliban members replaced American troops on the runway. The airport has become inoperable.
Yesterday, the Biden administration said 100 to 200 Americans remain in the country. Those able to escape fear for family members left behind.
Afghan journalist Ahmed Sarhadi lost his fingers 14 years ago to a Taliban roadside bomb. He fled to Qatar last month, but his wife and five children remain in Kabul. His family says the Taliban is looking for him.
Ahmed Sarhadi, Afghan Journalist:
I was trying to have my family with me to come to Qatar, but, unfortunately, there was no time. And, also, I have no contact with my family, how they are doing. I don't know what's going to happen with my family who are there, because I'm — physically, I am here, but, mentally, I am in Afghanistan worried about my family.
Judy, as Afghans and the rest of the world wait to see whether or not the Taliban make good on their promises, we turn now to one of Afghanistan's most prominent voices on human rights.
Shaharzad Akbar was chairperson of Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission. She and her family were recently evacuated from Kabul.
She joins me now from Istanbul.
Shaharzad, welcome to the "NewsHour," and thank you for making the time.
I wonder if you wouldn't mind just telling us, first off, why did you make the decision for you and your family to leave?
Shaharzad Akbar, Ex- Chair, Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission:
Thank you, Amna. And good to be on this program.
I actually bought commercial — I bought a ticket for a commercial flight. I and my husband and my child, we left on a commercial flight thinking that we will be back in a week. But on the day that I left, it was Sunday morning, and I think ours was one of the last commercial flights.
In any case, I don't see returning to Afghanistan in the near future as an option, like many women's rights activists, human rights activists, because I think the space has completely shrunk, of course, for us. There is no sense of safety, despite assurances by the Taliban, or security.
There is concern that they will harass people like me and our families. And, of course, there is no space really for a woman, no public space for a woman to have an impact, to have a role in society.
Well, the Taliban leadership have been saying that they will promise to build an inclusive government.
We should say it's been reported today that one of the Taliban leaders said that women will have no place in the formation of a new government. What is your reaction to that?
I mean, it is not entirely surprising, because we Afghans have known Taliban for a long time.
And we have been monitoring the situation in areas under Taliban control. It's not something new that there is very little space for women's public role in areas that they controlled before, even when there was a conflict in Afghanistan. They have in the past made promise about women's rights, but they have all left it very vague and have not gone to specifics, I think precisely for this reason.
And now we can see that they have now made an announcement that, in their Cabinet, there'll be no minister level woman, because, simply, they don't think that women are qualified to govern, women are qualified to lead. I think they seriously do not believe in that.
Well, what does that say to you about what kind of future women will have in Afghanistan?
I'm extremely concerned for women in Afghanistan.
I think that this is the beginning of another dark period. I really hope this doesn't last long, but everything that we worked so hard for — and Afghan women really, really worked hard. They had to fight their families, their communities to get where they are.
Can you imagine a policewoman, if you imagine many women that I knew that now have Ph.D.s or pursuing master's degrees, or were working in prominent government positions, they came from families where their moms were illiterate.
And they moved so much in the space of 20 years, and all of that is gone now. It has all — it is all back to zero. And so I think my heart goes out to every single Afghan woman and girl, because I know the, right now, the future seems bleak.
The Taliban leadership also pledged that they wouldn't seek vengeance on people who fought them in the past.
What are you hearing in terms of stories on the ground? Does it line up with that promise?
It does seem like they are they are doing house to house searches. There is a lot of fear and intimidation.
There are also reports of — some reports of incidents where members of — former members of security forces have been executed. So it doesn't seem like there is complete coherence in what is being said and what is being done on the ground. This may be due to lack of control on fighters, or this may be because Taliban are saying something and acting in a different way.
But the situation is concerning. I remain very concerned for my own colleagues and for women's rights defenders, human rights defenders, and independent media who are still operating in Afghanistan. I think still, even until yesterday, there was a sense that the world is watching.
But as that fades, we will really see, we will really see to what extent Taliban hold up to the promises. But, some of them, they have already broken.
We have heard from U.S. leaders that they believe they have sufficient financial leverage and diplomatic leverage to continue to pressure the Taliban government as it forms and takes over to secure human rights on the ground.
Do you believe that they have that leverage?
I honestly — I honestly hope so. I really hope so.
But I don't. I have personally persuaded governments to use their leverage to — for an inclusive peace process. That has not happened. So everything that we have asked for as Afghans for — to reduce Afghan suffering and to sure — to ensure a dignified future for our people, so far, it hasn't been delivered.
And so I don't know. It's yet to be seen. I really hope that's true. I really hope that these conditionalities that they have in mind don't end up just causing a lot of pain and suffering for ordinary Afghans, but actually really manage to hold Taliban accountable.
Shaharzad Akbar, we have had trouble getting people on the ground to share their stories or speak freely, because many of them are uncertain and worried about what will happen next.
You have left, but you are still speaking freely. Why is that? Are you worried about any repercussions for family or friends that you have left behind?
I do. I — it's really — every day, it's a battle.
I have — you may have noticed I have reduced my media presence, especially when several of my key colleagues and my — members of the leadership team of the commission were still in Afghanistan and my family was in Afghanistan.
I wasn't speaking to media, because I was worried about that, that this might cost to them. I'm still worried. But this is — but I also feel like I have a duty, as someone who is in a safe place, to raise my voice for people who really have a lot to say, but don't have the opportunity because they're so anxious about their own safety and safety of their families.
That is, Shaharzad, former chair of Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission.
Thank you so much for making the time to speak with us.
Thank you, Amna.
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