Taliban try to polish their image as they push towards victory

But the signs that the Taliban have not reformed are increasingly clear: An assassination campaign against government workers, civil society leaders and security forces continues on pace. There is little effort to proceed with peace talks with the Afghan government, despite commitments made to the United States. And in areas the insurgents have seized, women are being forced out of public-facing roles, and girls out of schools, undoing many of the gains from the past 20 years of Western presence.

For much of the Afghan public, terrified and exhausted, the Taliban’s gains have been panic-inducing. And there is widespread fear that worse is in store, as the Taliban already have several crucial provincial capitals effectively under siege.

Regional groups have begun to muster militias to defend their home turf, skeptical that the Afghan security forces can hold out in the absence of their American backers, in a painful echo of the country’s devastating civil war breakdown in the 1990s.