The Taliban fighter waited for us behind the barbed wire on the finish of the lengthy, slim steel 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 number 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’d grow to be the primary to report from exterior the capital.
On the Afghan aspect of the border, the autos we’d be travelling in waited within the distance. We felt involved for our security, however the Taliban fighters who had come to satisfy 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 they’d 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 aspect of the highway to go stay. Passersby had been curious. Folks started to assemble. One man, clean-shaven and in his 30s or 40s, advised us they’d not seen digicam 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 now 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 experience with “Haji Lala”. A Taliban veteran in his late 50s with robust options and wrinkled pores and skin, Haji is extremely revered by the youthful fighters.
His solutions to our questions had been brief. He disliked the consolation of the brand new autos and missed the mountains and hardships of the battlefield, he defined.
However step by step, as we began to speak about his previous, he started to chill out and open up. He shared tales about hungry Taliban fighters, stranded in “enemy territory” and different distant areas, 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 navy 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 nighttime of his windowless cell.
Imprisoned and tortured by his American and Afghan captors, Haji could 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 – rapid and resolute – stunned 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 choices which are 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 stay with forgiveness … If we [the Taliban] don’t depart 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 conflict songs on his cell phone – there was no music, simply lyrics.
Jalalabad: The town of tuk-tuks
In Jalalabad, the noise of automotive horns honking and the notorious visitors jams might make you overlook that something had modified – till you noticed the Taliban flags flying from automobiles 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 and not using a 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’ll 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 well tackle their rapid socioeconomic hardships in a rustic the place 40 million individuals should not have sufficient to eat and three.1 million youngsters are vulnerable to acute malnutrition.
On the guarded gates of the governor’s workplace, the place we had been attributable to 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 massive 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 strategy 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 individuals and a system which favours the oppressed over the highly effective to the few hundred or so, largely Taliban supporters and sympathisers, who had gathered to hearken to them.
However these are phrases the Afghan individuals have heard earlier than – from their “democratic” rulers and the Taliban earlier than them. The individuals of Jalalabad say they simply need peace and a return to the times of fine enterprise.
The celebration ended shortly, and as quickly because the Taliban cleared the bottom, males and boys in soccer shorts began the apply on the well-maintained pitch. It was an attention-grabbing juxtaposition, maybe of a extra tolerant Afghanistan the place shorts-wearing footballers maintain the foreground as gun-toting Taliban fighters fade into the gap.
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 may be very blissful as we now 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.
Many of the Taliban leaders we spoke to had been content material with the progress they’d made two weeks after coming to energy and had been targeted on safety and rooting out corruption. Mohammed Hanif is the person in control of 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 attainable and other people used to shut their outlets earlier than sundown as they had been afraid of being robbed and killed. However now outlets are open until midnight and persons are blissful.”
The streets had been buzzing because the solar set on our first day in Afghanistan. However at Jalalabad’s important market, avenue meals vendor Mullah Shafiullah had been struggling to draw clients for his often 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. “Persons are struggling. Taliban should do one thing and will join with neighbouring international locations to enhance commerce.”
I used to be puzzled, if the Taliban actually had not achieved something fallacious in two weeks, why had been individuals so afraid of them? One Taliban commander provided a proof. About 60,000 troopers from Nangarhar province had died preventing the Taliban within the final 20 years; it’ll take time for his or her households to imagine 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 girls. There have been fewer girls on the streets and the boys we spoke to stated it was attributable to 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 group in control of operating it; the identical individuals who had been there earlier than the Taliban took over. Dr Nargas Talash agreed to see us within the girls’s ward, which is often a no-go space for males. “We had been very afraid of Taliban once they took over as we thought they would be the similar brutal Taliban we now have seen 20 years in the past,” she defined. “However now we’re extra comfy 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 nervous. “In two weeks, we haven’t seen something dangerous however I can let you know that they don’t have individuals of excessive calibre and expertise. In the event that they need to govern the nation, they need to have high-quality people who find themselves true to the nation,” she stated. “Now, their rule reminds us of the previous time. We keep in mind they blew up our properties and killed our brothers in entrance of us – how am I imagined 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 compelled to beg within the streets. We’ve no points with the Taliban, we wish them to safeguard the sources 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 medical doctors had been involved concerning the hearsay that the Taliban wouldn’t permit girls to depart their properties and not using a male guardian. We took their query to a Taliban scholar who advised us that ladies would solely must be accompanied by a male guardian on journeys lasting longer than three days. There was a whole lot 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 providers for sufferers and that they’d sufficient medical provides to final a number 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 training?
The Taliban has introduced that girls and boys will probably be segregated from college to school, explaining that they don’t seem to be in opposition to girls’s training however in opposition to the blending of the sexes.
We went to a number of public faculties earlier than lastly reaching the training ministry for the province. Right here too, it was the identical individuals operating day-to-day affairs as had been doing it earlier than the Taliban takeover. The issue is that almost all public servants weren’t paid for months. Amongst them are 2,300 feminine academics – many cautious of working below Taliban rule. Nangarhar province’s 900 academic establishments are attributable to 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 approach dwelling from a close-by non-public college.
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 instructing job additionally contains serving to out with the entrance desk. She is a medical pupil 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 grew to become emotional as she recalled the pictures of Afghans clinging to planes, desperately making an attempt to depart the nation. It was painful to look at, 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 depart Afghanistan, she was adamant that she would keep. “I’ll keep in Afghanistan after I grow to be a health care provider so I’ll assist my nation and other people. My massive 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’d 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 attraction 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 unusual navy 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 often 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 dwelling. For the poorest fighters, the Islamic Emirate offers a number of thousand Afghanis (lower than $50) to the household, a few times a 12 months. The Taliban claims that is how they’ve been in a position to defeat the world’s best-paid and best-equipped armies, who waged conflict of their nation for 20 years.
We talked concerning the males enjoying in shorts, girls’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 precisely 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.