Afghanistan's Taliban have declared August 15 the day of "victory" against the United States and announced a public holiday for Tuesday to mark the second anniversary of their return to power in Kabul.
The then-insurgent Taliban captured the capital on August 15, 2021, after overrunning the rest of the war-torn South Asian nation as the last remaining U.S.-led NATO troops withdrew, ending their two decades of involvement in the Afghan war.
"Tuesday is the victory day of the jihad [holy war] of the people of Afghanistan under the leadership of Islamic Emirate against the United States and its allies," stated an announcement by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs on the eve of the anniversary.
The Taliban government, the Islamic Emirate, relies on its strict interpretation of Islamic law, or Sharia, to rule the poverty-stricken South Asian nation.
No foreign country has yet granted legitimacy to the de facto Afghan authorities, citing restrictions on most women's access to work, and a ban on girls' education, and other human rights concerns.
"It is time for the United States and others to formally recognize our government because it is the right of the people of Afghanistan, and withholding it is not a positive step," Zabihullah Mujahid told VOA in an interview ahead of Tuesday's celebrations.
"Women's education and work is not the issue. These are mere excuses," Mujahid asserted, speaking from his office in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar. "Unfortunately, accepting an Islamic government is difficult for the Western world or countries defeated in Afghanistan, so they are not ready to recognize us."
The United Nations has indefinitely postponed international recognition of the Taliban government.
Mujahid said their Islamic Emirate had met all the requirements over the past two years to become part of the global community.
He recounted the Taliban had established nationwide peace and security, stabilized the economy, ended illegal opium poppy cultivation as well as its trafficking, ensured women's rights to inheritance, and engaged in commercial activities in line with Sharia.
“We maintain formal ties with several countries. Our visits to and cooperation with them through diplomacy are all formal. We have opened Afghan embassies in many countries, and their embassies operate in Kabul. Our official business, trade, and exchange of delegations take place with them,” Mujahid said.
"We consider it a formal acceptance of the Islamic Emirate, and we are no longer concerned about this issue." He renewed the demand for Western nations to unfreeze nearly $9 billion in Afghan central bank assets, mostly held in the U.S., and to lift travel restrictions on top Taliban leaders.
Mujahid alleged that American drones still occasionally violate Afghan airspace. He demanded an end to the alleged violations.
Taliban forces have ended terrorism, and they are determined to prevent anyone, including Afghans, from threatening the United States or any other country from Afghanistan, he said.
“Those found guilty of indulging in such activities will be brought to justice and punished in line with our legal system."
Mujahid claimed that sustained Taliban counterterrorism operations had almost "decimated Daesh and its bases" in the country. He used the local name for the regional affiliate of the Islamic State terrorist group, known as the Islamic State Khorasan Province.
In a recent round of talks with Taliban representatives, U.S. delegates urged them to reverse policies responsible for the deteriorating Afghan human rights situation, particularly for women and girls. The dialogue occurred in Doha, Qatar, from July 30-31.
"U.S. officials took note of the Taliban's continuing commitment to not allow the territory of Afghanistan to be used by anyone to threaten the United States and its allies, and the two sides discussed Taliban efforts to fulfill security commitments," the State Department said after the meeting.
It noted reports indicating that the Taliban's ban on opium poppy cultivation resulted in a significant decrease in cultivation during the most recent growing season.
Taliban have banned girls from attending schools beyond the sixth grade, blocked female students from accessing university classes, and banned Afghan women from working for the U.N. and other aid groups in a country where two-thirds of the population need humanitarian aid.
While the hard-line leaders have touted their gains since reclaiming power two years ago, the United Nations and other global monitors have consistently decried worsening human rights conditions in Afghanistan.
CIVICUS, a South Africa-based global alliance of civil society organizations and activists, in its report on the two-year Taliban rule, criticized them for unleashing a "systematic assault on civic space.”
"The Taliban have continued to crackdown on protests over the last year, especially by women's rights activists around their right to education and employment with some arbitrarily arrested and ill-treated," the report said.
"Activists have been arbitrarily arrested and detained for their criticism of the Taliban,” the global alliance said. “Others have faced harassment, intimidation, and violence, and some have been killed."
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has called on the Taliban to stop their "relentless campaign of media intimidation" and abide by its promise to protect journalists in the country.
"Two years after the Taliban takeover, Afghanistan's once vibrant free press is a ghost of its former self," Beh Lih Yi, CPJ's Asia program coordinator, said Monday.
"Worsening media repression is isolating Afghanistan from the rest of the world at a time when the country is grappling with one of the world's largest humanitarian emergencies."
She stressed that access to reliable and trustworthy information could help save lives and livelihoods in a crisis, "but the Taliban's escalating crackdown on media is doing the opposite."
Press freedom monitors say about a dozen journalists are imprisoned in Afghanistan for their work. Most were rounded up over the past two weeks, including three Sunday.
The Taliban's spy agency, the General Directorate of Intelligence, is allegedly the driving force behind the crackdown. Government media spokespersons rarely comment on the agency’s crackdown.
Despite initially promising to allow press freedom after taking power two years ago, the Taliban have shut down dozens of local media outlets, banned some international broadcasters, and denied visas to foreign correspondents, the CPJ noted in its statement.
"In the last two years, hundreds of Afghan journalists have fled to neighboring countries like Pakistan and Iran, and many are now stuck in legal limbo without clear prospects of resettlement to a third country," the U.S.-based media freedom monitor said.