Can the Taliban win hearts and minds in Kabul?

Since seizing Kabul last month, the Taliban have tried to present a conciliatory face. But winning the hearts and minds of Afghans in the capital will be no easy task.

Kabul-dwellers aren't used to the armed men who roam the streets in battlefield dress, often with no obvious chain of command.

Urban distaste for the fighters who've descended from the countryside mixes with fear they'll return to past tactics such as public beatings, amputations and executions.

Kabul may be run down, but it's no longer the bombed-out shell the Taliban took over in 1996. After 20 years of Western presence, the city has a lively urban culture.

Kabul resident Ahmad Tahir:

"I think that the previous era is being repeated and our women are being harassed and harassed again. Please, I ask the Islamic Emirate to respect the rights of women, and respect the rights of our sisters and mothers to determine their own fate."

Taliban leaders say they'll be less hardline this time, and they want Kabul residents to feel secure.

But they acknowledge they were surprised by the swift collapse of the Western-backed government, leaving next to no time to plan the running of a city of over 5 million people.

And that their fighters, most of whom have known little but years of war, are not trained police used to dealing with the public.

Seyed Rahman Heydari heads a Taliban patrol team in Kabul.

"We have a message to our nation, that we are always at their service, we serve them, we protect them and we provide them security, and it is our message to the people that they should not have any fear in their hearts. We are at their service day and night."

Some struggle to believe that message. These journalists were beaten after a protest this week.

Protests on women's rights and other issues have been broken up by Taliban firing warning shots into the air. People have been detained and beaten with rifle butts and rods and pipes.

"These people are very unjust, they are not human at all. They do not give us the right to demonstrate; they are not Muslims but infidels, as you can see from the situation we are in."

On Wednesday (September 8), women protested again after the Taliban formed a government with no female members, underlining scepticism of the Taliban's assurances of women's value in society.

Many are determined to hold on to the gains of the past two decades.

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