The Taliban fighter waited for us behind the barbed wire on the finish of the lengthy, slender metallic walkway that’s the solely path for pedestrians crossing the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
He greeted us with a smile, clutching his shiny M16 rifle, emblazoned with the phrases “property of US govt”. A couple of hours earlier, the final American soldier had left Afghanistan.
I, a cameraman and a producer had been the primary worldwide information crew to have crossed into the nation by land for the reason that Taliban had taken over Kabul on August 15, and we might change into the primary to report from outdoors the capital.
On the Afghan facet of the border, the autos we might be travelling in waited within the distance. We felt involved for our security, however the Taliban fighters who had come to fulfill us – some as younger as 20, born within the 12 months the US forces invaded the nation, all of them sporting the signature turbans and lengthy beards – assured us that they had been in management and that there had been unprecedented peace within the two weeks that they had been in cost. Courteous and smiling, they talked in Pashto as my producer translated. They had been blissful at having defeated “the world’s strongest military”, they defined.
As we set off alongside the busy Torkham-Kabul freeway in our three-vehicle convoy with our six Taliban companions, driving into Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province, we stopped by the facet of the highway to go reside. Passersby had been curious. Folks started to assemble. One man, clean-shaven and in his 30s or 40s, advised us that they had not seen digital camera crews filming within the streets for months.
Peeling away from our Taliban entourage, we questioned the group of some dozen males who had gathered. Have been the Taliban fighters mistreating anybody? Have been they scared for his or her lives? They appeared keen to speak. There was consensus that for the reason that Taliban took over, there had been no corruption or lawlessness and that it had been on its finest behaviour. A middle-aged dealer stated they not needed to pay bribes at each checkpoint they crossed with their items. Beforehand, every truck needed to pay 10,000 to fifteen,000 Afghanis ($118 to $178) to Afghan guards on the border with Pakistan after which bribes of between $2 and $30 at every of the handfuls of checkpoints alongside their routes. Now, they simply make a single cost to the emirate, collected by the Taliban on the border.
On a part of our journey from Torkham to Jalalabad, the fifth largest metropolis in Afghanistan and the capital of Nangarhar province, we had been permitted to trip with “Haji Lala”. A Taliban veteran in his late 50s with robust options and wrinkled pores and skin, Haji is very revered by the youthful fighters.
His solutions to our questions had been quick. He disliked the consolation of the brand new autos and missed the mountains and hardships of the battlefield, he defined.
However regularly, as we began to speak about his previous, he started to loosen up and open up. He shared tales about hungry Taliban fighters, stranded in “enemy territory” and different distant places, and the strangers who had, seemingly miraculously, appeared to supply them meals and concerning the time a dozen fighters with only one AK-47 rifle and some bullets between them managed to “scare away the enemy”.
Haji spent 9 years within the infamous Bagram army detention centre. Taliban fighters had been feared by their American captors and Afghan countrymen, he stated. They had been fed solely a small piece of bread every day – simply sufficient to make sure they didn’t die of hunger, he added. Most of his 9 years had been spent at the hours of darkness of his windowless cell.
Imprisoned and tortured by his American and Afghan captors, Haji might appear to be a super candidate to hunt revenge – the form of Taliban fighter many Afghans are afraid of. Now that the Individuals are gone, would he be tempted to show his gun on his former Afghan captors, I requested him. His reply – quick and resolute – shocked me. “No,” he stated. His struggle was for a spiritual trigger, not a private one, he defined, and he would abide by the ruling of the Rahbari Shura, the ruling supreme council which takes selections which can be binding on all fighters and commanders, to forgive and transfer on. He received’t overlook, he added, and if he noticed his Afghan jail guards he would discover it tough. However, he mirrored, “If I survived the 9 years [in prison], I can reside with forgiveness … If we [the Taliban] don’t go away the previous [behind], how will we transfer ahead to the way forward for an Afghanistan which is peaceable and primarily based on Sharia?”
My questions had been making Haji uncomfortable, reminding him of the abuses he endured, so he stopped speaking and began enjoying Taliban warfare songs on his cell phone – there was no music, simply lyrics.
Jalalabad: The town of tuk-tuks
In Jalalabad, the noise of automobile horns honking and the notorious visitors jams might make you overlook that something had modified – till you noticed the Taliban flags flying from vehicles and lampposts, reminders that there have been new rulers right here now.
It had been two weeks for the reason that metropolis had been taken by the Taliban with no struggle and residents had been getting used to seeing the group’s fighters on the town’s streets. The Taliban says it’s establishing a system of safety and justice, however it can face an uphill wrestle to beat the distrust of those that keep in mind it from 20 years in the past and doubt it may possibly handle their quick socioeconomic hardships in a rustic the place 40 million folks would not have sufficient to eat and three.1 million youngsters are liable to acute malnutrition.
On the guarded gates of the governor’s workplace, the place we had been as a consequence of meet the native Taliban chief, we had been made to attend whereas our autos had been cleared for entry. As soon as inside, an unfinished mosque and curated gardens led to the guesthouse on the far finish of the large compound. From the soccer stadium subsequent door, we might hear echoes of speeches and hymns – all a part of a victory celebration on the day the US forces withdrew from the nation.
As we made our technique to the stadium, climbing rickety guard ladders, the fiery speeches and pledges by Taliban leaders to determine a corruption-free Afghanistan grew louder. They described a rustic that cares for its folks and a system which favours the oppressed over the highly effective to the few hundred or so, principally Taliban supporters and sympathisers, who had gathered to take heed to them.
However these are phrases the Afghan folks have heard earlier than – from their “democratic” rulers and the Taliban earlier than them. The folks of Jalalabad say they simply need peace and a return to the times of excellent enterprise.
The celebration ended shortly, and as quickly because the Taliban cleared the bottom, males and boys in soccer shorts began the observe on the well-maintained pitch. It was an fascinating juxtaposition, maybe of a extra tolerant Afghanistan the place shorts-wearing footballers maintain the foreground as gun-toting Taliban fighters fade into the space.
On the stadium, we met Ihsanullah Rashidi, who was in his 20s and enthusiastic about what he believed to be the nation’s newfound safety. “Now everybody could be very blissful as now we have a peaceable Afghanistan and nobody is stopping us from saying something on social media,” he defined. Since then Taliban fighters have whipped journalists and damaged up protests with violent crowd dispersal techniques.
A lot of the Taliban leaders we spoke to had been content material with the progress that they had made two weeks after coming to energy and had been targeted on safety and rooting out corruption. Mohammed Hanif is the person answerable for the Info and Tradition Directorate for Nangarhar province. “There’s peace now in Nangarhar province,” he advised us from his workplace in downtown Jalalabad. “Everybody feels safe, which has inspired them to proceed with their enterprise. Earlier that wasn’t potential and other people used to shut their retailers earlier than sundown as they had been afraid of being robbed and killed. However now retailers are open until midnight and individuals are blissful.”
The streets had been buzzing because the solar set on our first day in Afghanistan. However at Jalalabad’s predominant market, avenue meals vendor Mullah Shafiullah had been struggling to draw clients for his normally bestselling Aash, a preferred noodle and ice cream dish. “We’re all blissful that there’s peace however all of us are involved about our enterprise as there may be hardly any exercise,” he confided. “Individuals are struggling. Taliban should do one thing and will join with neighbouring nations to enhance commerce.”
I used to be puzzled, if the Taliban actually had not completed something flawed in two weeks, why had been folks so afraid of them? One Taliban commander provided an evidence. About 60,000 troopers from Nangarhar province had died preventing the Taliban within the final 20 years; it can take time for his or her households to consider that the group just isn’t out for revenge, he defined. I couldn’t corroborate that quantity because the Afghan military has withered away and the troopers who surrendered are staying of their properties.
The place are the ladies?
So too are many Afghan ladies. There have been fewer ladies on the streets and the lads we spoke to stated it was as a consequence of an inherent worry of the Taliban. The brand new rulers say the ladies are afraid due to false propaganda and a 20-year-old picture of the group’s brutality.
At Nangarhar Regional Hospital, we met the workforce answerable for working it; the identical individuals who had been there earlier than the Taliban took over. Dr Nargas Talash agreed to see us within the ladies’s ward, which is normally a no-go space for males. “We had been very afraid of Taliban after they took over as we thought they would be the similar brutal Taliban now we have seen 20 years in the past,” she defined. “However now we’re extra snug with them. They got here and gave assurances to get again to work with none points and thank God they’re supportive.”
However her colleague, Dr Rubina Stanakzai, was not satisfied. Talking from her workplace, she was fearful. “In two weeks, we haven’t seen something dangerous however I can inform you that they don’t have folks of excessive calibre and expertise. In the event that they need to govern the nation, they must have high-quality people who find themselves true to the nation,” she stated. “Now, their rule reminds us of the outdated time. We keep in mind they blew up our properties and killed our brothers in entrance of us – how am I purported to belief them?
“What we’re afraid of is duality of individuals in spiritual garb and devils beneath. What we don’t want is them destroying our financial system and our sisters and moms pressured to beg within the streets. We have now no points with the Taliban, we would like them to safeguard the assets of the nation. We’re additionally Muslims. Allah isn’t just theirs – He’s ours as effectively. They don’t have a particular contract with God.”
Each docs had been involved concerning the hearsay that the Taliban wouldn’t enable ladies to go away their properties with no male guardian. We took their query to a Taliban scholar who advised us that girls would solely have to be accompanied by a male guardian on journeys lasting longer than three days. There was lots of confusion, he added, arising from propaganda and other people’s assumptions.
Managers on the Nangarhar Regional Hospital confirmed there had been no disruption in medical companies for sufferers and that that they had sufficient medical provides to final a couple of months. Dr Saeed Alfridi, who has labored on the facility for 22 years and now runs the Postgraduate Medical Schooling Workplace, defined that the segregation of the sexes was already in place on the hospital – and had been lengthy earlier than the Taliban returned to energy. “In my nation, the tradition is like this,” he stated. “All females are additionally coming to work sporting a hijab.”
What about schooling?
The Taliban has introduced that girls and boys will probably be segregated from faculty to college, explaining that they aren’t in opposition to ladies’s schooling however in opposition to the blending of the sexes.
We went to a number of public colleges earlier than lastly reaching the schooling ministry for the province. Right here too, it was the identical folks working day-to-day affairs as had been doing it earlier than the Taliban takeover. The issue is that the majority public servants weren’t paid for months. Amongst them are 2,300 feminine academics – many cautious of working beneath Taliban rule. Nangarhar province’s 900 instructional establishments are as a consequence of open on September 15, however as we had been driving by the town, we noticed some youngsters in uniform – younger women and boys enjoying within the streets on their means residence from a close-by non-public faculty.
We met the college’s principal and requested if we might communicate to a few of the feminine members of employees. It was late afternoon and 23-year-old Mushkan Babri was the final one left as her educating job additionally consists of serving to out with the entrance desk. She is a medical scholar and works part-time to help her household as a result of her father, who’s an engineer, has been out of labor for a very long time.
A assured English speaker, Babri selected her phrases rigorously. She turned emotional as she recalled the pictures of Afghans clinging to planes, desperately making an attempt to go away the nation. It was painful to observe, she defined. She empathises with their worry however desires Afghans to serve their nation, no matter who runs it. “Folks had been afraid. Now Taliban has come, our safety and society is effectively.” After I requested her if she was planning to go away Afghanistan, she was adamant that she would keep. “I’ll keep in Afghanistan after I change into a physician so I’ll assist my nation and other people. My large hope is peace in our nation,” she replied.
It was getting late and we needed to attain the Torkham border crossing earlier than it closed to pedestrians for the evening. However we nonetheless wanted a allow for the quite a few checkpoints we might cross on the 75km (47-mile) freeway between Jalalabad and Torkham. We returned to the governor’s workplace to get it.
As soon as we handed by the blast-proof doorways and entered the air-conditioned rooms of the governor’s workplace, the governor’s brother greeted us with a broad smile – a continuation of the Taliban appeal offensive that had been on show all through our time in Afghanistan. He laughed at my criticism about Jalalabad’s inexperienced tea tradition – it’s served with breakfast, lunch, dinner and at tea time – and provided espresso and milk toffees that had been made in Iran. After I requested whether or not these, too, had been captured, all these within the room smiled and advised me the candies and toffees on the governor’s home had shortly run out.
We mentioned the whole lot, from safety to frame commerce and the Taliban’s insistence that Chinese language funding will probably be key to stabilising the financial system. There have been others within the room, Kandahari commanders from the south and Balkhis from the north – all woven into this new Taliban setup. They defined that they’ve the world’s most original army as none of their troopers is paid. What occurs to their households and youngsters, I requested. Afghanistan is a tribal society with a joint household system, so the prolonged household normally takes care of the fighter’s family, they replied.
Every Taliban fighter spends a set period of time requisitioned by his unit commander, after which goes residence. For the poorest fighters, the Islamic Emirate gives a couple of thousand Afghanis (lower than $50) to the household, a couple of times a 12 months. The Taliban claims that is how they’ve been capable of defeat the world’s best-paid and best-equipped armies, who waged warfare of their nation for 20 years.
We talked concerning the males enjoying in shorts, ladies’s fears, music and Islamic regulation. Pointing at me, they stated some commanders’ actions – the floggings and different punishments – within the Nineteen Nineties had been blown out of proportion by the media. However the Taliban is strictly what it was earlier than, they defined. They don’t see themselves because the Taliban 2.0. It’s the world’s lens that’s 2.0, they defined; the Taliban is identical.