The Taliban mark a year in power that has given Afghanistan security but little hope

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  • Taliban celebrate ‘Salvation and Freedom Day’
  • Relatively safer country, but facing challenges
  • Aid reduced as international community demands rights for women

KABUL, Aug 15 (Reuters) – The Taliban and their supporters waved the group’s black and white flag on the streets of Afghanistan on Monday to celebrate one year since they entered the capital and seized power after a series breathtaking victories on the battlefield.

In the 12 months since the chaotic U.S. withdrawal, some Afghans hailed improved security but struggled with poverty, drought, malnutrition and fading hope among women to play a decisive role in the future of the country.

Men fired into the air in Kabul and a few hundred people, including supporters, fighters and officials, gathered in the square outside the US Embassy to mark the day. They held banners with the slogan “dead in the United States”.

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“Today is the day of the victory of truth over lies and the day of salvation and freedom of the Afghan nation,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement.

At a ceremony attended by Taliban government ministers, Acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi said their regime had brought security where the United States had failed and said the group wanted positive relationships with the world.

“We want good relations with all countries, we will not let Afghan territory be used against anyone,” he said, adding that they wanted to address the current challenges in the country.

The country is physically safer than it was when the radical Islamist movement was battling US-led foreign forces and their Afghan allies, although a local offshoot of the Islamic State has carried out several attacks.

Yet this relative security cannot mask the scale of the challenge the Taliban face in putting Afghanistan on the path to economic growth and stability. There are enormous pressures on the economy, caused in large part by the country’s isolation, with foreign governments refusing to recognize its leaders.

The development aid on which the country depended so heavily has been reduced as the international community demands that the Taliban respect the rights of Afghans, especially girls and women whose access to work and education has been restricted.

Taliban demand return of $9 billion in central bank reserves held overseas, but talks with US face hurdles, including US demands that a sanctioned Taliban leader step down from his position as second in command of the bank.

The Taliban refuse to give in to these demands, saying they respect all the rights of Afghans under their interpretation of Islamic law.

And until there is a major change in position on either side, there is no immediate solution in sight for the soaring prices, rising unemployment and hunger that would worsen as winter sets in.

“We are all heading towards darkness and misfortune,” said Amena Arezo, a doctor in the southeastern province of Ghazni. “People have no future, especially women.”

MORE THAN HALF IN POVERTY

Around 25 million Afghans currently live in poverty – well over half the population and the United Nations estimates that up to 900,000 jobs could be lost this year due to the slowing economy.

Fatima, who lives in the western province of Herat, said she had noticed an improvement in security over the past year, but noted with dismay that schools for girls had closed and he there was a lack of employment opportunities for women.

Like many Afghans, she asked that only her first name be used for fear of reprisals.

Jawed, from the southern province of Helmand, which has seen heavy fighting in the past, said security had improved significantly since the Taliban returned to power 20 years after being ousted by US-backed force. United, but also noted runaway inflation.

When the Taliban last ruled Afghanistan in the late 1990s, women couldn’t work, girls were banned from school and strict Islamic law was brutally enforced, including public executions.

Civil society and independent media have also shrunk, with many of its members leaving the country. The UN mission in Afghanistan said in a recent review that the group curbs dissent by arresting journalists, activists and protesters.

A Taliban spokesman rejected the UN report and said arbitrary arrests were not allowed.

The country’s administration continues to be seen as an interim government or “de facto” authority with acting ministers, whose decisions can be overruled by the group’s supreme spiritual leader, based in Kandahar City.

Some constitutional and legal experts say it is not always clear how the Islamic legal and moral code of Sharia will be interpreted and applied in practice.

“The most obvious problem is that there is no uniformity of law,” said Zalmai Nishat, an Afghan constitutional expert who previously worked as a government adviser.

“Now it’s up to the whims of the (Taliban) leader in Kandahar and also the whims of those who rule in his name…that’s the problem, that’s the unpredictability.”

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Reporting by Mohammad Yunus Yawar and Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Michael Collett-White, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Alison Williams

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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