By Lee Keath, Lee Keath The Washington Post
As the Taliban continue to expand their footprint into Afghanistan, members of the hard-line Islamic group are coming under intense fire for their slightly less extreme take on fashion, with photos of military fatigues and long hair seeming to appeal to women and fashionable Afghans.
“Not everyone in the Islamic Emirate is like this,” wrote Ahmadullah Shirzi, a spokesman for the Taliban, in a message that underscored the hard-line message of the movement. He apologized for the Taliban’s quirky image. “I admit that we could have used better English language, and that the style and uniforms in some of our members’ pictures are not very dignified,” he said.
Although the Taliban is considered to be isolated from the public because of its armed rule over Afghanistan in the early 1990s, the group continues to influence Afghan culture even in post-war Afghanistan. There are even Taliban schools for girls and parents are granted special permission to take their girls to the movement’s offices for cultural lessons and guidance on how to embrace Islam, regardless of their existing religion or behavior.
Known as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan after its brief 1995-2001 occupation, the Taliban has often ridiculed the image of its members.
A member who answered to an Islamic Emirate post in the southern province of Ghazni commented Saturday that the photos of bearded soldiers on various provinces amounted to their “sign of cowardice,” with one image from Helmand capturing four Taliban militants in central Afghanistan holding large AK-47 rifles.
Shirzi quickly downplayed the criticism over their military uniforms, saying it was an attempt to “distract from their real face.” He urged members to “take extra care of the way they act,” while uploading photos showing Afghan people wearing Western or Afghan style clothing.
The Afghanistan Fashion Week showcased rural Afghan designers and entrepreneurs while defending the Taliban for allowing women to wear high heels and long hair. The event was held Saturday to coincide with the first anniversary of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan for Brig. Gen. Abdul Razeq Zaeef, the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan who secretly returned to his homeland earlier this year and signed a peace agreement.
The heavily armed Taliban have relied on harsh religious edicts to restrict and warn their foot soldiers. After the group captured northern Afghanistan in 2001, they banned radios and television in the region, forcing Afghan women to hide their faces in public and walk from one hiding place to another in disguise, including veils.
“They are from a state of oppression, injustice and discrimination, so they do not think of fashion or individual manners,” Zaeef said in an interview in Kabul.