KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers face tough economic and security challenges as they step back into power in a country that is vastly different from the one they left 20 years ago.
When they last ruled in the late 1990s, Afghanistan was a poor agricultural nation, and the Taliban were preoccupied with imposing their harsh brand of Islam on an already deeply traditional and largely compliant population.
This time, they’re inheriting a more developed society with a small, educated middle class, but also an economy that has been devastated by war and corruption. Even before the Taliban overran Kabul on Aug. 15, the jobless rate was more than 30% and more than half of Afghans lived in poverty, despite two decades of U.S. involvement and billions of dollars in aid.
The Taliban have sought to reassure Afghans that they’ve changed from 1996, when they ruled with a heavy hand. Men had to grow…