In the early hours of Tuesday, the Taliban celebrated the departure of the last US plane of soldiers and their ambassador from Afghanistan, after a 20-year US-led occupation of the country.
Jubilant members of the Taliban paraded the streets of Kabul, as their leaders marked what they called Afghanistan’s “independence day”.
“We are overjoyed that the people of Kabul and other capitals welcomed us with open arms without allowing warmongering circles the opportunity to prolong the destructive cycle of conflict,” says Abdul Qahar Balkhi, a leading member of the Taliban’s Cultural Commission.
“They rallied behind the cause of Islam and establishment of an Islamic system in Afghanistan, in line with the values of our proud and freedom-seeking people.”
Since the day after the Taliban returned to power and positioned themselves in the presidential palace in Kabul, seizing control over Afghanistan, the mainstream media has been giving the new government critical and even hostile coverage.
Media reports of house-to-house interrogations and violence allegedly committed by the Taliban continue to pour in, including in Kabul.
Moreover, we’ve watched desperate people, including children, leaping onto the sides of planes charging down the Kabul runway, clinging to a dangerous and ultimately futile attempt to flee the country.
“It’s unfortunate,” says Abdul Qahar. The hysteria, he explains, is the result of years of persistent demonisation of the Taliban, with a “very small minority of people” falling victim to the propaganda despite senior Taliban officials declaring a general amnesty for all citizens, including government and security workers.
The new government is repeatedly clarifying its forces should treat the population respectfully and not hand out arbitrary punishments to restore peace, however, many mistrust them since Taliban’s previous rule over the country, which lasted from 1996 until the 2001 invasion by US-led forces.
Abdul Qahar blames the US for the chaotic scenes at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport. Harrowing videos have emerged of babies and children being passed to soldiers over razor-wire fences and men clinging to the outside of departing planes.
“The root cause behind the hysteria is the encouragement of the US and rumours about visa on arrival for all,” says the Taliban leader.
“The US continues to push the ‘Hollywood’ image of America and false promises of prosperity or greener pastures on the other side. And as most people of Afghanistan live below the poverty line due to the four decades of foreign occupation and imposed war, many naturally want to move outside in pursuit of improved livelihoods.”
News from Afghanistan has for years shown a gravely oppressed state liberated by US soldiers in 2001 to legitimise an external intervention.
Meanwhile, the United Nations warns Afghanistan is on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe, as the country faces a worsening economic crisis and a devastating drought.
The US spent $2.26 trillion on its war in Afghanistan, according to the Costs of War project. However, the majority of those funds, nearly $1.5 trillion, was spent on maintaining the US occupation, dropping tens of thousands of bombs and missiles on Afghans.
Abdul Qahar also notes the media’s role in fueling fear of the Taliban. “The media has regretfully not played a positive role in distributing our message of peace.”
“Instead of reflecting the reality that the vast majority of Afghans are actually happy with the security and life returning to normal, they are disproportionately focusing on the situation at the airport which is caused by the US encouraging people to leave and then not allowing them inside because they do not possess proper documentation.”
He criticises the Western news media in particular for “working overtime to demonise the valiant people of Afghanistan who have courageously fought for their right to self-determination.”
“Of course when the media is funded by a particular group, they will push and promote certain agendas,” he adds, accusing it of portraying the Taliban as an “evil force imposing their values and ideals on foreign countries and as a fragmented tribal society unaware of world politics that is destabilising regional and world security, as well as harming economic growth.”
“The truth could not be any farther than that,” says Abdul Qahar.
The group, he explains, will use this period to seek opportunities to cooperate with world leaders and the international community to improve security and economic development, while reestablishing the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
While the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has not changed in terms of remaining committed to the principles of Islam and establishment of Islamic law, the Taliban leader says it plans to implement changes gradually through preaching and engaging in dialogue about the merits of Islamic conduct instead of rigorously applying force.
The media, he adds, will be empowerment so that it can positively impact and improve people’s quality of life as well as highlight the government’s shortcomings.
The US failed to attain its main objective for the people of Afghanistan; Western democracy. Instead, it lost 2,500 of its own troops, while 47,000 civilians were killed during its occupation, as well as nearly 69,000 Afghan military and police personally.
According to Abdul Qahar, the idea of Western democracy in Afghanistan was a “farce” from the very beginning, as it wasn’t practical, nor sustainable for the majority who rejected all its concepts that were in conflict with Islamic laws.
“Democratic order must take root from the people and that is why many Afghans never turned up for general elections and the US had to intervene each time in order to settle disputes between rival politicians over rigged and fraudulent elections.”
It is up to the Taliban, now, to decide how they will embrace the future for Afghanistan, whether it’s one of acceptance and reconciliation or a return to a cycle of vengeance.
On behalf of Afghanistan’s new government, Abdul Qahar concluded with a promise: “We are optimistic that all have learnt lessons from the long years of war and ruin. We are encouraging all to leave the past where it belongs and look forward towards the future so that our country, the region and the world can finally find peace and security so all our people may prosper and contribute to the great human civilisation – each with its own distinct beauty, character and heritage, and none imposing their way of life on the other.”