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Evaluating The Examples Of The Ways The Taliban Say They've Changed

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

So that's what a Taliban spokesman says they will do. And we'll be reporting in the weeks and months ahead on what they do. And we start right now with NPR international affairs correspondent Jackie Northam. Jackie, good morning.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: How do you evaluate the statements there?

NORTHAM: Well, you know, there are a lot of big promises being made here. I think the Taliban is trying to convince the world that they're a far different group than when they ruled Afghanistan back in the '90s. You know, it was a brutal, utterly ruthless regime that terrorized its people. So is it any wonder that there's skepticism now that we're going to - you know, we're hearing this is going to be a gentler and more inclusive militant group? You know, the Taliban knows that the eyes of the world are watching them. And they say they don't want to be a pariah state again. So that could motivate them to stick with these promises. But, Steve, it's a really tough sell.

INSKEEP: And he did say there will be no reprisals for Afghans who worked with Americans. And there are thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands of people who would fit in that category. What are Afghans saying about their safety right now?

NORTHAM: Well, you pointed out examples of reports from various parts of Afghanistan about revenge killings by the Taliban going after Afghans they see as opposing them and just other acts of violence. It could be that the directives from the senior leadership of the Taliban aren't trickling down. You know, we understand that Taliban is helping with crowd control at the airport in Kabul. And it's having to use force to push back, you know, thousands of people, push back the crowds. But we're also hearing reports of people trying to flee the country who are getting stopped and beaten and robbed at Taliban checkpoints near the airport.

INSKEEP: Jackie, I think you're correct when you say that the Taliban are trying to sound different. But it was notable to me in that interview that he didn't actually commit to do anything specifically different. I asked, are you going to be cutting off people's hands and putting them up for display? He said, well, it's up to the judge. Is that really that much different?

NORTHAM: Right. And, well, if you look at women, he said that they could go to school and work. But at this press conference yesterday, they were saying that's true. But it has to remain within the framework of Islamic law. And it's a little unclear what that is, you know? There's concern, you know, it's going to go back to the way things were for women in the '90s. And they've come a long way. And you can imagine how tough this is going to be for women who are 18 and 20 years old who have never lived under the Taliban. They could be facing a real different reality now.

INSKEEP: What is the next thing for us to watch for as we try to determine how the Taliban will govern?

NORTHAM: Well, first and foremost is what the new government will look like, you know. Will it be inclusive, as the Taliban say it will be? How will they interpret Islamic law? That's going to give us a sense of how they're going to treat Afghans, and also whether there's going to be widespread reprisals and cracking down.

INSKEEP: NPR international affairs correspondent Jackie Northam. Thanks for your reporting.

NORTHAM: Thanks so much.

INSKEEP: And we will stay on this story.

(SOUNDBITE OF KUPLA AND PHILANTHROPE'S "NAUTICAL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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