The Taliban fighter waited for us behind the barbed wire at the finish of the lengthy, slim 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 few hours earlier, the final American soldier had left Afghanistan.
I, a cameraman and a producer have been the first worldwide information crew to have crossed into the nation by land since the Taliban had taken over Kabul on August 15, and we might grow to be the first to report from outdoors the capital.
On the Afghan facet of the border, the autos we might be travelling in waited in the distance. We felt involved for our security, however the Taliban fighters who had come to fulfill us – some as younger as 20, born in the 12 months the US forces invaded the nation, all of them carrying the signature turbans and lengthy beards – assured us that they have been in management and that there had been unprecedented peace in the two weeks they’d been in cost. Courteous and smiling, they talked in Pashto as my producer translated. They have been glad at having defeated “the world’s strongest army”, 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 have been curious. People started to assemble. One man, clean-shaven and in his 30s or 40s, instructed us they’d not seen digicam crews filming in the streets for months.
Peeling away from our Taliban entourage, we questioned the group of some dozen males who had gathered. Were the Taliban fighters mistreating anybody? Were they scared for his or her lives? They appeared keen to speak. There was consensus that since the Taliban took over, there had been no corruption or lawlessness and that it had been on its greatest behaviour. A middle-aged dealer stated they not needed to pay bribes at each checkpoint they crossed with their items. Previously, every truck needed to pay 10,000 to fifteen,000 Afghanis ($118 to $178) to Afghan guards at the border with Pakistan after which bribes of between $2 and $30 at every of the dozens of checkpoints alongside their routes. Now, they simply make a single fee to the emirate, collected by the Taliban at 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 have been permitted to journey with “Haji Lala”. A Taliban veteran in his late 50s with powerful options and wrinkled pores and skin, Haji is very revered by the youthful fighters.
His solutions to our questions have been quick. He disliked the consolation of the new autos and missed the mountains and hardships of the battlefield, he defined.
But progressively, 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 about 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 in the infamous Bagram navy detention centre. Taliban fighters have been feared by their American captors and Afghan countrymen, he stated. They have 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 have been spent in the darkish of his windowless cell.
Imprisoned and tortured by his American and Afghan captors, Haji might look like a perfect candidate to hunt revenge – the form of Taliban fighter many Afghans are afraid of. Now that the Americans 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 combat was for a non secular 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 might 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 troublesome. But, he mirrored, “If I survived the nine years [in prison], I can live with forgiveness … If we [the Taliban] don’t leave the past [behind], how will we move forward to the future of an Afghanistan which is peaceful and based on Sharia?”
My questions have 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 metropolis of tuk-tuks
In Jalalabad, the noise of automobile horns honking and the notorious site 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 since the metropolis had been taken by the Taliban with no combat and residents have been getting used to seeing the group’s fighters on the metropolis’s streets. The Taliban says it’s establishing a system of safety and justice, however it is going to face an uphill wrestle to beat the distrust of those that keep in mind it from 20 years in the past and doubt it could actually deal with their quick socioeconomic hardships in a rustic the place 40 million individuals wouldn’t have sufficient to eat and three.1 million kids are liable to acute malnutrition.
At the guarded gates of the governor’s workplace, the place we have been attributable to meet the native Taliban chief, we have been made to attend whereas our autos have been cleared for entry. Once inside, an unfinished mosque and curated gardens led to the guesthouse at 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 option 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, principally Taliban supporters and sympathisers, who had gathered to take heed to them.
But 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 days of fine enterprise.
The celebration ended rapidly, and as quickly as the Taliban cleared the floor, males and boys in soccer shorts began the observe 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 distance.
At 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 everyone is very happy as we have a peaceful Afghanistan and no one is stopping us from saying anything on social media,” he defined. Since then Taliban fighters have whipped journalists and damaged up protests with violent crowd dispersal techniques.
Most of the Taliban leaders we spoke to have been content material with the progress they’d made two weeks after coming to energy and have been centered on safety and rooting out corruption. Mohammed Hanif is the man answerable for the Information and Culture Directorate for Nangarhar province. “There’s peace now in Nangarhar province,” he instructed us from his workplace in downtown Jalalabad. “Everyone feels secure, which has encouraged them to continue with their business. Earlier that wasn’t possible and people used to close their shops before sunset as they were afraid of being robbed and killed. But now shops are open till midnight and people are happy.”
The streets have been buzzing as the solar set on our first day in Afghanistan. But at Jalalabad’s most important market, road meals vendor Mullah Shafiullah had been struggling to draw prospects for his often bestselling Aash, a well-liked noodle and ice cream dish. “We are all happy that there’s peace but we all are concerned about our business as there is hardly any activity,” he confided. “People are suffering. Taliban must do something and should connect with neighbouring countries to improve trade.”
I used to be puzzled, if the Taliban actually had not accomplished something incorrect in two weeks, why have been individuals so afraid of them? One Taliban commander provided an evidence. About 60,000 troopers from Nangarhar province had died combating the Taliban in the final 20 years; it is going to take time for his or her households to consider that the group will not be out for revenge, he defined. I couldn’t corroborate that quantity as the Afghan military has withered away and the troopers who surrendered are staying of their houses.
Where are the girls?
So too are many Afghan girls. There have been fewer girls on the streets and the males we spoke to stated it was attributable to an inherent concern of the Taliban. The new rulers say the girls are afraid due to false propaganda and a 20-year-old picture of the group’s brutality.
At Nangarhar Regional Hospital, we met the crew answerable for operating it; the similar individuals who have been there earlier than the Taliban took over. Dr Nargas Talash agreed to see us in the girls’s ward, which is often a no-go space for males. “We were very afraid of Taliban when they took over as we thought they will be the same brutal Taliban we have seen 20 years ago,” she defined. “But now we are more comfortable with them. They came and gave assurances to get back to work without any issues and thank God they are supportive.”
But her colleague, Dr Rubina Stanakzai, was not satisfied. Speaking from her workplace, she was nervous. “In two weeks, we haven’t seen anything bad but I can tell you that they don’t have people of high calibre and talent. If they want to govern the country, they have to have high-quality people who are true to the nation,” she stated. “Now, their rule reminds us of the outdated time. We keep in mind they blew up our houses and killed our brothers in entrance of us – how am I purported to belief them?
“What we are afraid of is duality of people in religious garb and devils underneath. What we do not want is them destroying our economy and our sisters and mothers forced to beg in the streets. We have no issues with the Taliban, we want them to safeguard the resources of the country. We are also Muslims. Allah is not just theirs – He is ours as well. They don’t have a special contract with God.”
Both medical doctors have been involved about the hearsay that the Taliban wouldn’t enable girls to depart their houses with no male guardian. We took their query to a Taliban scholar who instructed us that ladies would solely must be accompanied by a male guardian on journeys lasting longer than three days. There was a number of confusion, he added, arising from propaganda and other people’s assumptions.
Managers at the Nangarhar Regional Hospital confirmed there had been no disruption in medical companies for sufferers and that they’d sufficient medical provides to final just a few months. Dr Saeed Alfridi, who has labored at the facility for 22 years and now runs the Postgraduate Medical Education Office, defined that the segregation of the sexes was already in place at the hospital – and had been lengthy earlier than the Taliban returned to energy. “In my country, the culture is like this,” he stated. “All females are also coming to work wearing a hijab.”
What about schooling?
The Taliban has introduced that girls and boys shall be segregated from college to school, explaining that they don’t seem to be towards girls’s schooling however towards the mixing of the sexes.
We went to a number of public faculties earlier than lastly reaching the schooling ministry for the province. Here too, it was the similar individuals operating day-to-day affairs as have been doing it earlier than the Taliban takeover. The downside is that the majority public servants weren’t paid for months. Among them are 2,300 feminine lecturers – many cautious of working underneath Taliban rule. Nangarhar province’s 900 instructional establishments are attributable to open on September 15, however as we have been driving by means of the metropolis, we noticed some kids in uniform – younger ladies and boys enjoying in the streets on their manner house from a close-by non-public college.
We met the college’s principal and requested if we might converse 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 contains serving to out with the entrance desk. She is a medical pupil and works part-time to assist 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 photos of Afghans clinging to planes, desperately making an attempt to depart the nation. It was painful to observe, she defined. She empathises with their concern however needs Afghans to serve their nation, no matter who runs it. “People were afraid. Now Taliban has come, our security and society is well.” When I requested her if she was planning to depart Afghanistan, she was adamant that she would keep. “I will stay in Afghanistan when I become a doctor so I will help my country and people. My big hope is peace in our country,” she replied.
It was getting late and we needed to attain the Torkham border crossing earlier than it closed to pedestrians for the night time. But 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.
Once we handed by means of 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 grievance about Jalalabad’s inexperienced tea tradition – it’s served with breakfast, lunch, dinner and at tea time – and provided espresso and milk toffees that have been made in Iran. When I requested whether or not these, too, had been captured, all these in the room smiled and instructed me the candies and toffees at the governor’s home had rapidly run out.
We mentioned every thing, from safety to frame commerce and the Taliban’s insistence that Chinese funding shall be key to stabilising the financial system. There have been others in 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 navy as none of their troopers is paid. What occurs to their households and kids, 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.
Each Taliban fighter spends a set period of time requisitioned by his unit commander, after which goes house. For the poorest fighters, the Islamic Emirate offers just a few thousand Afghanis (lower than $50) to the household, a few 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 about 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 – in the Nineties have been blown out of proportion by the media. But the Taliban is strictly what it was earlier than, they defined. They don’t see themselves as the Taliban 2.0. It is the world’s lens that’s 2.0, they defined; the Taliban is the similar.