The Taliban Say They've Changed. Experts Aren't Buying It The Taliban takeover of Kabul means a likely return to Afghanistan's repressive past. That would be bad for women, religious and ethnic minorities and anyone who opposes the new regime.

The Taliban Say They've Changed. Experts Aren't Buying It

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

How would the Taliban run Afghanistan if they ever retook full control? A lot of Afghans hope they never find out because Taliban rule in the 1990s was so brutal. But as U.S. troops left recently, the Taliban did take much of the country from government control. And those areas now are getting a glimpse of how the Taliban govern now. NPR's Scott Neuman reports.

SCOTT NEUMAN, BYLINE: In 1996 when the Taliban first seized power, the militant religious movement promised security from lawless warlords who controlled much of Afghanistan, says Laurel Miller of the International Crisis Group.

LAUREL MILLER: But it was at the cost of enduring a very brutal and oppressive regime.

NEUMAN: In their five-year rule, the Taliban were notorious for denying women education, employment and even health care, and for enforcing a harsh brand of Islamic justice. Miller says that after 20 years in the political wilderness, the Taliban are eager for an image makeover.

MILLER: They claimed to not want to again be at the top of the pariah regime that doesn't enjoy support from foreign donors. And that leaves Afghanistan mired in poverty.

NEUMAN: To be sure, few experts are predicting the imminent collapse of the U.S.-backed government. In the areas the Taliban have conquered, though, it all looks a little too familiar to most Afghans.

HUSAIN HAQQANI: The Taliban have not changed at all in their conduct on the ground.

NEUMAN: Husain Haqqani is a former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S. who is now at the Hudson Institute.

HAQQANI: They have been executing people summarily. They have been lashing women. They have been shutting down schools. They have been blowing up hospitals. The only thing that has changed is that they understand the need for a little more international acceptance of them.

NEUMAN: The last time they were in power, the Taliban were isolated from much of the rest of the global community. The U.S. has spent the past few years hammering out a peace deal with them. And in recent weeks, Taliban leaders have been to Iran, Russia and China. Madiha Afzal is a fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution.

MADIHA AFZAL: This sends a problematic message because it essentially legitimizes them without them having to engage in a reduction in violence or, obviously, better still, a cease-fire.

NEUMAN: In return, she says, the Taliban are telegraphing that they'll be able to bring peace and stability to an unstable Afghanistan whose problems have frequently spilled over into the rest of the region.

AFZAL: They're saying that they will not allow Afghanistan, Afghan soil, to be used against any foreign country.

NEUMAN: Meanwhile, an outright Taliban military victory and takeover of the government is only the most extreme scenario. Far more likely is the possibility of some sort of power-sharing agreement. But given the situation on Afghan battlefields in recent weeks, any such deal would likely leave the Taliban in the driver's seat. Scott Neuman, NPR News, Washington.

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