White hijabs and black tunics packed classrooms in Herat, Afghanistan, days after the Taliban took control.
The kids hurried through hallways and talked in courtyards as the school opened, apparently oblivious to the country’s recent upheaval.
An AFP photographer captured the sights this week, only days after Taliban militants seized the city after the fall of government troops and local militia.
“We want to develop like other countries,” Roqia remarked. “We hope the Taliban maintain security. We want peace in our nation, not war.”
Herat, on the historic Silk Road, has long been a cosmopolitan outlier among more orthodox cities.
In a city known for its poetry and arts, women and girls were freer to roam the streets.
But its long-term viability is unclear.
Women and girls were mostly denied school and work under the Taliban’s strict interpretation of Shariah law in Afghanistan in the 1990s.
In public, women had to wear full-face veils and must be accompanied by a man.
Adultery was punished by public whipping and death, including stoning.
What the Taliban’s return means for women is unknown.
The Taliban are trying to portray themselves as moderates, with its spokesman declaring on Tuesday a formal pardon for “everyone” engaged in the conflict.
On behalf of the Taliban, Zabihullah Mujahid claimed the organisation was “committed to allowing women work in line with the teachings of Islam”.
“If the question is based on ideology and ideas, there is no difference… but if we compute it based on experience, maturity, and understanding, there are significant differences,” he added.
“Today’s steps will be distinct from previous ones,” he said.
Women have been mostly missing from Kabul’s streets, while males have started donning more traditional Afghan attire.
Tens of thousands of Afghans are still attempting to escape the nation as the Taliban takes control.
It is still unknown whether the Taliban have had discussions with schools or if they have an official education strategy.
Suhail Shaheen, another Taliban spokesman, gave guarantees on the subject in a recent interview with Sky News.
Women may receive an education from kindergarten through university, he added.
Thousands of schools were still open in Taliban-held regions, he said.
In Herat, school principal Basira Basiratkha voiced cautious hope, thanking God for the reopening.
“Our beloved pupils are in big numbers and wearing hijab,” she added.