KABUL: Afghanistan marked the 20th anniversary of 9/11 in muted fashion on Saturday with the Taliban firmly in charge, two decades after being ousted from power.
The Islamist group retook power on August 15, after a lightning offensive that capitalised on the chaotic last weeks of the 20-year US-led occupation that followed the 2001 attacks.
Hundreds of fully veiled women held a rally at a Kabul university to express support for the Taliban, just days after public protests against their rule.
Unconfirmed reports had circulated all week that the Taliban may use the September 11 anniversary to swear in their new government, but the day unfolded without formal recognition.
“This is a day for America, not for Afghanistan,” said Muhammad Alzoad, a bank clerk. “This had nothing to do with Afghanistan, but it made us suffer.”
The Taliban have promised a milder form of rule as compared to their previous stint in power. However, they have moved swiftly to stifle dissent — firing in the air to disperse protests by women last week calling for the right to education and work.
Khalilzad says US will continue to engage with the group to ensure the safe passage of people who want to leave Afghanistan
On Saturday, however, hundreds of women dressed head-to-toe in black abaya and niqab were allowed to rally in support of the Taliban.
“Those not wearing the hijab are harming all of us,” said a woman speaker. “We are supporting our government with all our strength,” said another.
After the speeches, the women held banners and walked in organised lines for a short distance on the street outside, flanked by Taliban soldiers carrying rifles and machine guns.
The Taliban flag, meanwhile, fluttered over the Afghan presidential palace. Hemad Sherzad, a Taliban fighter and member of the group’s cultural council, said the flag at the palace was raised on Friday morning.
Washington’s special envoy on Afghanistan and architect of a deal with the Taliban said more than 250 foreign nationals had left Afghanistan in the past three days.
In a series of tweets Khalilzad praised both Qatar, whose national airline carried out the flights, and Taliban’s cooperation “in this important effort, for the recent departure of foreign nationals from Afghanistan”.
“We will continue to engage the government of Qatar, the Taliban, and others to ensure the safe passage of our citizens, other foreign nationals, and Afghans that want to leave,” Khalilzad tweeted.
However, hundreds of Afghans, including US citizens and green card holders, remain stranded in northern Afghanistan’s Mazar-i-Sharif waiting to be evacuated but stopped by Taliban rulers demanding travel documents.