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Taliban shifting senior officers to Kandahar. Will it imply a tougher line? Lalrp


The distant Afghan metropolis, the group’s religious middle, is internet hosting extra regime officers and overseas dignitaries as Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada consolidates energy

Taliban spokesman Inamullah Samangani, middle, meets final month with different Taliban officers in his new workplace on the Division of Tradition and Data in Kandahar in southern Afghanistan. ( Elise Blanchard for The Washington Submit)

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Earlier than Sept. 11, 2001, this distant, sand-swept border metropolis in southwestern Afghanistan was the seat of energy of the Taliban, the militant Islamic regime headed by the reclusive Mohammad Omar. Camel caravans got here and went; spiritual decrees had been issued and obeyed. Kabul, the capital 300 miles to the north, was a ghost city of near-empty ministries and shuttered embassies.

Right this moment, Kandahar is a bustling, safe and way more fashionable metropolis — on the floor. Factories produce aspirin and child components, taxes are collected and electrical energy is offered around-the-clock.

In different methods, although, this historic bastion of conservative tribal tradition, the birthplace of the Taliban motion, has modified little for the reason that group first dominated the nation from 1996 to 2001. Kandahar has adjusted virtually seamlessly to the 2021 return of the Taliban — and the revival of their inflexible Islamist rule below one other shadowy spiritual chief, Hibatullah Akhundzada.

Now there are indications that Taliban leaders below Akhundzada are making Kandahar their base from which to regulate the nation, signaling the declining affect of extra reasonable Taliban members within the capital because the regime doubles down on repressive insurance policies.

Previously month, regime officers have invited delegations from Japan and Qatar to fulfill them right here, quite than with different officers in Kabul. The Taliban’s chief spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, and a second info official from northern Afghanistan, Inamullah Samangani, had been abruptly relocated right here from workplaces within the capital.

There’s been no official clarification for these adjustments. However they counsel Akhundzada is consolidating energy by shifting the nation’s middle of gravity to the Taliban’s religious middle — a transfer that would augur a hardening of the regime’s opposition to worldwide calls for.

Mujahid and Samangani say their reassignments had no particular significance. Samangani advised The Washington Submit his solely curiosity was to obey the needs of Akhundzada, who lives right here. “No matter he asks me to do, I’ll do gladly,” Samangani mentioned. “If he wants me to be right here, I shall be right here.”

Right this moment, within the metropolis of 614,000, girls have largely vanished from markets and workplaces. Males have been lashed within the native sports activities stadium for adultery and theft.

Whereas a number of residents are keen to criticize these insurance policies aloud, many have accepted them willingly as the value for restoring order and custom after years of warfare, upheaval and Western affect.

“We now have peace and safety. That’s what issues essentially the most,” mentioned Jamshid Mateen, a person in his 40s who sells wedding ceremony robes in a lined market. It’s one of many few locations in Kandahar the place girls should store freely.

Mateen’s feedback had been echoed by many older males right here. However youthful males — together with his teenage son — confessed that they miss listening to music, which the Taliban have once more banned as un-Islamic. “It’s irritating,” the boy mentioned. “There is no such thing as a enjoyable anymore.”

Akhundzada not often leaves his high-walled compound, and is much more not often seen in public. “He lives a easy life right here in a rented home, not a luxurious palace in Kabul,” Mujahid advised The Submit. “He desires to have higher relations with the nation and the worldwide group.”

Mujahid famous that the majority Taliban officers, together with senior navy and safety ministers and Supreme Court docket justices, stay in Kabul, a cosmopolitan metropolis the place 20 years of Western affect took deeper root. “The facility continues to be there,” he mentioned.

Nonetheless, official affect has been steadily shifting right here from the a lot bigger capital. “The middle of gravity is unquestionably shifting,” mentioned one analyst in Kabul, who spoke on the situation of anonymity for concern of retaliation. “When the principle spokesman is there, it means the federal government is there. Kandahar is changing into the brand new capital.”

In Kandahar, it’s “a lot simpler for the Taliban to regulate issues than in Kabul,” a a lot bigger and extra various metropolis, mentioned a former native enterprise proprietor who now lives outdoors the nation. He spoke on the situation that he be recognized solely by his first identify, Mansour, for concern of retaliation. In Kabul, he famous, individuals are “extra educated, extra former officers are nonetheless there, and it’s tougher to implement full obedience.”

A turning level within the shift got here in March 2022. The regime, strapped for money after resisting months of overseas stress, promised to raise its ban on ladies attending highschool. However on the day they had been on account of return, the order was revoked, reportedly by Akhundzada. Teenage ladies stay barred from learning.

In November, the Taliban resumed public lashing and stoning for criminals and ethical offenders. In addition they allowed accusers to hold out public revenge punishments, together with executions. All such punishments require last approval by Akhundzada himself.

In Kandahar, males expressed little concern concerning the resumption of Taliban rule, however some mentioned older ladies needs to be allowed to check. Most within the metropolis are from the Taliban’s Sunni spiritual sect and of Pashtun ethnic background; in addition they share its conventional tribal tradition.

Enterprise homeowners mingle simply with Taliban officers. A number of complained about new taxes and the problem of importing overseas items, however they mentioned they in any other case had been handled nicely.

“Because the emirate got here, there have been lots of alternatives for enterprise,” mentioned Sarwar Amani, director of the Kandahar bureau of business and mines. “House owners are not anxious about being kidnapped. Corruption has vanished and the earlier observe of nepotism for contracts has stopped. Now anybody can make investments.”

On a tract of suburban industrial land referred to as Anomina, factories have begun working once more below exemptions from worldwide monetary sanctions on the Taliban. Snow Pharma, a big fashionable plant with Indian technicians and greater than 1,000 Afghan staff, began turning out medicinal capsules and capsules a number of weeks in the past.

Native spiritual leaders are particularly enthused concerning the return of the Taliban. The regime is subsidizing a whole bunch of madrassas — spiritual colleges — for boys and males.

“Due to God, safety is again and the federal government has given all rights to Muslims,” mentioned Mufti Ahmadullah Hemat, 35, a former Taliban fighter who teaches at a reopened madrassa. He spent three years as a prisoner at Bagram air base, the previous foremost U.S. navy base close to Kabul, he mentioned. “There are nonetheless many sacrifices due to overseas sanctions, however the emirate won’t let the folks undergo,” he mentioned.

School members on the madrassas mentioned ladies needs to be allowed to check, however solely below the “correct circumstances,” similar to gender-segregated services. That’s the place the Taliban has taken — with out making it occur.

It’s harder to discern the opinion of native girls. Many have been despatched residence from jobs and a few have stopped answering their telephones. In public, they’re scarce, hurried and totally veiled. Approached by a Submit reporter, a number of shied away.

“Typically our outdated shoppers do name us and beg for assist, however there may be nothing we will do,” mentioned a overseas support employee who as soon as assisted girls in Kandahar. “They’re being separated from public life. Their very existence is withering away.”

However a number of native professionals mentioned the brand new restrictions replicate the area’s conventional tradition. Wives and daughters by no means participated in public life or social occasions the place unrelated males had been current. “It wasn’t simply the fault of males,” one mentioned. “In the event you took your spouse out, all the opposite girls would gossip.”

The United Nations and nationwide governments have condemned public corporal punishment. However some right here say it’s helpful for deterring would-be criminals and extra humane than lengthy Western jail sentences.

“These strategies usually are not harsh; they’re mushy,” mentioned Hafiz Mahmadulla, director of the madrassas. “Different international locations put criminals in jail for all times, however in Islam they’re punished shortly after which it’s completed.”

There have now been scores of such spectacles nationwide, together with a number of right here in latest months. At one, an attendee mentioned, Kandahar’s soccer stadium was full and the gang of males and boys was excited. 9 unidentified males who had been accused of theft, adultery or participating in gay exercise had been lashed with as much as 40 strokes every.

Mujahid, the federal government spokesman, mentioned the Taliban need higher relations with the worldwide group, however “it can’t be on one aspect solely.”

“They may by no means help us,” he mentioned. “So why ought to we hearken to their calls for?”

Islam, he mentioned, “has its personal method” of coping with felony offenders. Public punishments, he mentioned, “assist residents be taught to not commit crimes” — and disgrace those that do.

“Islamic legislation is an important factor,” he mentioned. “And it’s what the folks need.”