As It Happens

Taliban official tells longtime Afghanistan correspondent harsh punishments will return

Kathy Gannon, the AP's news director for Afghanistan and Pakistan, reports that while the Taliban has embraced some change, such as using social media, the militant group is seeking to return to harsh punishments, like executions.

Some offences will carry the death penalty or amputations, AP's Kathy Gannon reports

Mullah Nooruddin Turabi is the Taliban's chief of prisons and a member of the new government's cabinet. (Felipe Dana/AP)

Story Transcript

When journalist Kathy Gannon met the Taliban's Mullah Nooruddin Turabi in 1996, he screamed at her to leave the room.

Gannon, the Associated Press's news director for Afghanistan and Pakistan, was interviewing teachers about educating women and girls, and why they thought the Taliban, who had recently come to power, were opposed to it.

"He walked in and he was livid to see a woman talking to a bunch of men. And all he did was just scream at me, 'Get out!' in Pashto," she recalled. 

"One of the men got up to explain what they were doing and that they were just having this discussion about education. And he just hauled off, just pulled his hand back and just really hit the fellow and knocked him back down."

But last week, Gannon met Turabi again, who is now the Taliban's chief of prisons and a member of the cabinet, to interview him about the militant group's plans for Afghanistan.

AP journalist Kathy Gannon recently interviewed a senior Taliban official, and found that while the group is eager to embrace new technology, they're also promising the return of harsh punishments, including executions and amputations. (Martin Meissner/Associated Press)

"There certainly were changes. He was speaking to a woman, which he would never have done before. He did allow a photograph of himself, which he would never have done before," Gannon told As It Happens host Carol Off.

"So there are changes. The question I think, though, is more about how likely they are to be widespread. How are they going to actually play out in terms of women's education, working?" she said.

Harsh punishments to return

Many Afghans fled the country as the Taliban swept back into power in August, fearing the return of harsh rules, as well as punishments including amputations of hands or even executions.

After speaking with Turabi, Gannon said she believes the Taliban have changed in some ways and are embracing technology, allowing TVs and smartphones, especially if it helps them push their agenda.

"It was clear that he understood the value of photographs, the value of social media to get their message out. But I'm not sure the message itself has changed," she said. 

That message is a strict interpretation of the Qur'an. Turabi told Gannon that harsh punishments, including executions and amputations of hands, would return, though there was discussion over whether the measures would be carried out in public as they had been in the past. 

On Saturday, the Taliban hung a dead body from a crane parked in a square in the city of Herat, and said the man had taken part in a kidnapping and was killed by police.

"The reality is, is they understand that the world was outraged," she said. "So that's something that they are looking at. How do they continue with what they want to do and how they want to do it, without engendering that public outrage?"

Turabi told Gannon that if the punishments were made public, people may be able to record and circulate videos and photos of them as a deterrent. He also said that the Taliban would allow women to be judges to adjudicate cases that could see those harsh punishments meted out. 

Women gather to demand their rights under the Taliban rule during a protest in Kabul on Sept. 3, 2021. When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001, they enforced a harsh interpretation of Islam, barring girls and women from schools and public life, and brutally suppressing dissent. (Wali Sabawoon/The Associated Press)

Role of women uncertain

The Taliban have said that women and girls will be able to access education, but a strict dress code would apply, and students must adhere to Shariah law.

"I think from [Turabi's] perspective, there will be women going to school," said Gannon. "But it still remains to be seen how they actually implement that and how quickly they do."

Abdul Baqi Haqqani, the Taliban's new minister of higher education said earlier this month that women could still attend university, but they would be segregated from men. But the new chancellor of Kabul University, appointed by the Taliban, said Monday that women wouldn't be allowed to go to attend universities or work until an "Islamic environment" is created, according to NPR. 

The Taliban has also banned sports for women, and many athletes and their families have left the country.

Gannon noted that she spoke recently with a woman in Afghanistan who competes in tae kwon do. 

"She was saying, 'You know, the problem is that 80 per cent of Afghan men are not going to fight for the rights of women,'" Gannon said.

"We were in a store chatting and I looked over at the storekeeper and I said, 'Is that true?'" she said. "He nodded and he said, 'Unfortunately.' So, you know, it's a difficult and complicated situation for women."

Written by Andrea Bellemare with files from Associated Press. Interview produced by Katie Geleff. 

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