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Spokesman Presented Taliban As More Inclusive This Time Around In Press Conference

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The Taliban attempted to present a gentler, more inclusive face to the world today during their first press conference since sweeping into Afghanistan's capital, Kabul. A Taliban spokesman said there would be no retribution for anyone working for the Afghan government or foreigners, including the U.S. And he said women's rights would be protected up to a point. NPR's Jackie Northam was listening in on the press conference.

Hey, Jackie.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Sounds like some big promises here from the Taliban about their plans and how they want to run Afghanistan. What were some of the key points?

NORTHAM: Well, this was an effort by the Taliban to lay out its policies, its plans for running Afghanistan. But it was also a chance to placate concerns about militants retaking power in Afghanistan. Longtime Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid made a point of addressing many of those concerns. He said the Taliban wants peace in Afghanistan, and so it's going to pardon anyone that fought against them. He said a number of times that the new government is going to be strong, inclusive and Islamic. He also said it's important to have an independent media but that journalists should not write anything that goes against Islamic values.

KELLY: And tell me more about what exactly he said about rights for women and girls.

NORTHAM: He said that they will be allowed to go to school and work, but that would happen within the framework of Islamic law. Mujahid would not elaborate on what that framework might mean, but in the past, as you know, the Taliban have subscribed to an extreme interpretation of Islam.

KELLY: Well, exactly, which prompted me to ask you, are these promises that we heard today - will that help calm concerns both, I guess, inside Afghanistan but also in the international community?

NORTHAM: Yeah. You know, it's really hard to say. The whole world is watching the Taliban right now, and it's in their interest to put their best foot forward. But let's just see how this shakes out in the next few weeks or months. You know, we've already been hearing reports of revenge killings in some areas of the country which the Taliban have taken over. And, you know, Afghans in the international community - they remember how brutal, just how ruthless the Taliban were when they last ruled the country in the '90s. And it's going to take more than just a press conference to reverse that. You know, the fact that there are thousands of Afghans at the airport clamoring to get out of the country is a good indication of that. Mujahid did talk about these people at the airport, and here he is speaking through a translator.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: Mr. Mujahid says that we are assuring the safety of all those who have worked with the United States and allied forces, whether as interpreters or any other people that have worked with them. As for their talents and their skills, we do not want them to leave the country. We want them to serve their own homeland.

NORTHAM: And, Mary Louise, the Taliban will need skilled workers and bureaucrats and the like as it tries to form a new government.

KELLY: Yeah. And speaking of the new government, did we get any details on that, any hints who will be in charge going forward?

NORTHAM: Not so far. The spokesman, Mujahid, said that they were working very seriously on forming the next government, that there are lots of consultations going on. He said the talks included Abdullah Abdullah, who led the previous government's team when it was negotiating with the Taliban in Doha. But meanwhile, the Taliban's top negotiator, Abdul Ghani Baradar, has arrived back in Afghanistan. He'd come in from Qatar. And that could signal, in fact, that a new government will be formed fairly soon. And we're just going to have to wait and see what that looks like.

KELLY: NPR's Jackie Northam, thanks for your reporting.

NORTHAM: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.