A large Taliban gathering in Kabul ended on Saturday with thousands of Afghan clerics pledging loyalty to the Taliban, but no action on how the hardline group should govern the crisis-hit country.
The men-only gathering was called to rubber-stamp the Taliban's rule, and ahead of the meeting officials said criticism would be tolerated and they could also discuss thorny issues such as secondary school education for girls.
The media was barred from the event, although speeches were broadcast on state radio – including a rare appearance by the Taliban's reclusive supreme leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada.
Taliban officials presented the gathering as an opportunity for clerics to independently say how they wanted the country to be governed, but the meeting's final declaration was mostly a regurgitation of their own doctrine.
It called for allegiance to Akhundzada, loyalty to the Taliban and the complete acceptance of Shariah law as the basic principle of rule. "By the grace of God, the Islamic system has come to rule in Afghanistan," the declaration read. "We not only strongly support it, but will also defend it. We consider this to be the national and religious duty of the entire nation."
Since returning to power in August, the Taliban's harsh interpretation of Shariah law has imposed severe restrictions on Afghans – particularly women.
The Taliban have also outlawed playing non-religious music, banned human figures in advertising, ordered TV channels to stop showing movies and soaps featuring uncovered women, and told men they should dress in traditional garb and grow their beards.
The final declaration made no mention of girls' schooling, but called on the government to pay "special attention" to modern education, as well as justice and the rights of minorities "in the light of Islamic law."
It said the new government had brought security to the nation – despite an attack on the meeting Thursday by two gunmen that was claimed by the Daesh terrorist group, which has regularly carried out bomb blasts and ambushes since the Taliban's return.
"We call on the countries of the region and the world ... to recognize the Islamic Emirate as a legitimate system," the declaration read.
"Interact positively, lift all sanctions on Afghanistan, unfreeze the assets of the Afghan people and support our nation."
Afghanistan, long dependent on international funding for survival, has been in the grip of an economic crisis since the United States froze nearly $7 billion in assets held abroad – earmarking half for the families of victims of the 9/11 attacks.
U.S. officials, wary of releasing assets that could be used directly by the Taliban, are currently meeting with them in Qatar to see how they might be able to free up some funds to provide relief to tens of thousands affected by a deadly earthquake in the east of the country last week.
The "Commander of the Faithful," as he is known, rarely leaves the Taliban's birthplace and spiritual heartland of Kandahar and apart from one undated photograph and several audio recordings of speeches, has almost no digital footprint.
In Geneva on Friday, the United Nations human rights chief urged the Taliban to look to other Muslim countries for inspiration on improving the rights of women in a religious context.
Addressing an urgent council debate on the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan, Michelle Bachelet said they were "experiencing the most significant and rapid roll-back in the enjoyment of their rights across the board in decades."
"I strongly encourage the de facto authorities to engage with predominantly Muslim countries with experience in promoting women and girls' rights, as guaranteed in international law, in that religious context," she said.