People In Afghanistan Face Uncertainty As The Taliban Take Over
NOEL KING, HOST:
In the past in Afghanistan, the Taliban have enforced a strict version of Sharia law. What is their plan this time around? CNN's Clarissa Ward is one of the few Western journalists in Kabul, and I asked her that question earlier today.
CLARISSA WARD: Hi, Noel.
KING: You talked to members of the Taliban. What did you ask? And what did they tell you about what they want?
WARD: I asked them whether they're willing to guarantee people's safety. So many people I speak to here are petrified that they would face reprisal attacks for working with the U.S. government, for working with Afghan forces, and the Taliban says - and it's not clear whether you can take them at their word, but they say there is a blanket amnesty. For anyone who puts down their weapons, there will be no punishment; there will be no retaliation. A lot of people have trouble believing that. But that's their story, and they say that they're here to bring law and order on the streets to ensure that there isn't too much criminality during this sort of vacuum period.
KING: Do they want a diplomatic relationship or any type of relationship with the United States?
WARD: I asked them about this, and it wouldn't be drawn on the United States specifically because, obviously, it's such a sore spot for them, but they did make clear to me that they want to be part of the international community. They want to have relations, their words, with every country. They understand what a mess it was in the late '90s and early 2000s when they were an international pariah and how difficult that made their lives, how difficult it made access to funding. They want to get it right this time, they say. They want to do things differently. They want to show that they're more politically mature.
KING: It was a mess in part because of their treatment of Afghan women and girls, who were basically barred from doing anything. When you asked them what is next for women, what did they tell you?
WARD: So they say that women are free to have education, that women can go to university, that women can work. They can go to offices even. But - and there is a big but, Noel - after they reach puberty, women must wear full Islamic niqab, which means covering your face, covering your hands even. And also, women cannot be in the same area as men who are not part of their direct family. So what that means is that in reality, the logistics really preclude women from going and seeking higher education unless they suddenly build all-women's universities, from going and working in an office unless you have an office that is only for women. So that's why so many women are petrified - because they see that while the Taliban may be talking the talk, in practice, will they really walk the walk? Very few people here believe they will.
KING: What was their demeanor like? Are they happy to have taken over? It sounds like they are looking at governing as an enormous task.
WARD: They are. They understand that this is their moment, that the world is watching, and they want to get it right. They want to show that they're not just a fighting force, that they can be a political force, that they can govern. And so they understand that they need to show that they can bring law and order, that they're not going to impose this draconian Sharia law too quickly. As I said, though, very few people on the streets have any real faith that that's going to happen, and that's why you're seeing those chaotic, heartbreaking, gut-wrenching scenes at the airport, Noel.
KING: Yeah, what is happening - let me ask you lastly - what is happening at the airport in Kabul today?
WARD: There's continued scenes of mayhem, essentially, with this crush of humanity desperately trying to get in. You have this absurd situation where the Taliban is basically guarding the outer perimeter of the airport, trying to hold people back from pushing in and creating even further chaos. And then at the next perimeter, you have U.S. forces who are essentially trying to bring some semblance of order to the runway and the airfield so that they can continue to carry out these evacuations in as expedited a manner as possible.
KING: CNN's Clarissa Ward in Kabul. Thank you for your time, Clarissa.
WARD: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.