New Delhi: A female TV presenter interviewing a Taliban official on screen for the world to watch — the visual meant to grab the eyeballs, and it did.

At a time when people across the globe are fearing for the lives of women and their future in the country under Taliban rule, the image that played out on Tolo News Tuesday definitely tried to send out a different message.  

“The entire world now recognises that the Taliban are the real rulers of the country,” Taliban media team member Mawlawi Abdulhaq Hemad told Beheshta Arghand, the presenter who had asked what did he have to say on the situation in Kabul where the Taliban forces were conducting house-to-house searches, The New York Times reported.

“I am still astonished that people are afraid of the Taliban,” he added.

In a tweet, journalist Matthieu Aikins, who has extensively reported on Afghanistan, called the interview “remarkable, historic, heartening”, though he pointed out in the same post that the Taliban had given “access to Afghan and foreign women journalists” earlier also, during the peace talks in Doha.

 

Sense of Fear Among Women 

Since the takeover, the Taliban, which has a history of subjugating women, has given signals that their stand on women matters is now not as hardline as before. In a recent statement, a Taliban spokesperson said they respect women’s rights, and that women would be allowed to leave homes alone, and that they will have access to education and work, provided they wear the hijab.

On Tuesday, the Taliban also urged the women of the country to join its government as it declared an “amnesty” across the country.

Enamullah Samangani from the Taliban’s cultural commission said the “Islamic Emirate doesn’t want women to be victims”. He also said women “should be in government structure according to Shariah law”.

All this has, however, not helped alleviate the fear that people have in their minds, given the Taliban’s past records during their earlier reign when they would issue regressive diktats. The insurgent group ruled between 1996 and 2001, during which they barred women from taking up most jobs and girls from even going to school.

In the last two decades, the United States put in over $780 million to promote women’s rights in Afghanistan, according to a report in The New York Times. Women started joining the military and police forces, and have since held political offices too. They also competed in the Olympics.

With the Taliban’s return, there are now fears that things will go back to square one for women.

Over the past few days, Kabul residents could be seen tearing down advertisements showing women without headscarves.

There have also been reports of women journalists in Afghanistan seeking help from the world community as they feared for their lives under Taliban rule.

The ToloNews showing a woman presenter interviewing a Taliban official, therefore, holds significance.

Why ToloNews Fears Eventual Censorship 

Tolo News, which shared on Monday that the Taliban fighters entered its compound in Kabul and checked the weapons of the security staff and collected those issued by the government, has many female journalists working for it and it has notably not shied away from presenting them on screen. 

Besides Beheshta Arghand, they have shown a woman reporter out on the street. 

In a tweet posted on Tuesday, the independent news media organisation said the Taliban has agreed to keep their compound safe. 

Besides news programmes, Tolo News shows include soap operas and reality shows, many of which don’t appear to align with the conservative Taliban ethos.

On Sunday, the Taliban spokesperson mentioned above had said media would be allowed to criticise anyone but should not indulge in character assassination.

Speaking to BBC, Saad Mohseni, the chief executive of Moby Media Group that oversees Tolo News, however, said though the Taliban members had been professional and polite during their visit to the compound on Monday, he suspected his station’s content, especially entertainment, would face censorship eventually.

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