Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban group unveiled a new uniform for its national police force Wednesday, saying the move will lead to improved security in the conflict-torn country.
“In the first stage, 20,000 uniforms are being distributed [among police forces] in Kabul and Kandahar provinces. The number will reach up to 100,000 in the next two weeks,” Interior Ministry spokesman Abdul Nafi Takor told a televised news conference in the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Since returning to power nearly 10 months ago, the Taliban have relied on their widely feared insurgent-turned-security force to handle law and order across Afghanistan amid persistent criticism that the absence of a police uniform and a lack of police training are encouraging the men to indulge in criminal activities or misuse of power.
“This special uniform that you are seeing today will help counter security spoilers and provide better safety to our fellow citizens,” Deputy Interior Minister Noor Jalal Jalali told reporters, while some police officers wearing new uniforms lined up behind him.
The dark green uniform carries the Taliban’s white flag with black Arabic lettering displaying Islam's main tenet on the sleeves It reads, “There is no God but Allah. Mohammad is the messenger of God.”
The Islamist hardline group used the flag during its previous rule in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, when only Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates recognized the Taliban government, amid widespread human rights abuses and the exclusion of women from public life.
The disbanded U.S.-trained and -funded Afghan police forces were using grey-blue uniform, with the traditional tri-colored republican flag on the sleeves.
The Taliban seized power last August as the then-Afghan government and its Western-backed national security forces collapsed in the face of Taliban battlefield advances just days before the final U.S.-led foreign troops withdrew from the country.
No country has yet recognized the new Taliban government, known as Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, mainly because of human rights and terrorism concerns.
The all-male Taliban cabinet has rolled back many human rights Afghans enjoyed over the past 20 years, particularly those of women.
They have abolished the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and replaced it with the Ministry of Vice and Virtue, tasked with interpreting and enforcing the group’s version of Islam in the country.
The Islamist rulers have barred girls from resuming secondary school education across most of Afghanistan and female employees from returning to their jobs in some government departments. Afghan women have been ordered to cover up fully in public, including their faces, and not to travel long distances or leave Afghanistan unless accompanied be a close male relative.
Human rights defenders are urging the United States and other Western nations to press the Taliban to reverse their new rules for women if they want legitimacy, respect, financial assistance and relief from international sanctions.
Heather Barr with Human Rights Watch emphasized in a statement Tuesday that as long as “there are things the Taliban want, there is leverage" the international community can use to press the group to review its human rights-related polices.
“What is happening right now in Afghanistan is the most serious women’s rights crisis in the world today, and the most serious women’s rights crisis since 1996, when the Taliban took over the last time. There is no time to lose,” Barr said.
The Taliban reject the criticism of their governance-related decrees as a disrespect for Afghan religious and cultural values, insisting their actions are strictly in line with Islam.