“Zendegi megozara” (Life goes on), an Afghan proverb says – and Kabul, dubbed by the Western media as the city of hope and despair, could be a physical illustration of the saying. Weeks of fear and uncertainty under Taliban rule followed the withdrawal of NATO troops, the mass evacuations and the flight of the country’s leaders. Despite a humanitarian crisis unfolding and the future seeming murky, however, the Afghan capital looks just as it did back in the republican days – on the surface, at least.
The airport in Kabul still isn’t working at full capacity. After the Taliban took over the city on August 15 last year, most international carriers ceased flights to Afghanistan until the situation stabilizes – except for low-cost airline Fly Dubai, Mahan Air of Iran, and few more regional companies.
Turkey and Qatar believe they have begun negotiations to operate Kabul Airport. However, security requirements remain unmet. On the tarmac, you can see a dozen different aircraft as the shuttle moves passengers from one plane to another. These aircraft belong to Ariana Airlines or Kam Air, which are the current Afghan airlines that operate domestic and international flights.
Pictures have been removed from the airport’s outer walls of then-President Ashraf Ghani, Tajik mujahideen leader Ahmad Shah Masoud, and former president Hamid Karzai, after whom the airport was named. A new graffiti design in English says that the Islamic Emirate (Islamic Emirate) wants positive and peaceful relations with the outside world. The sun-weathered airpomassnews.compound does look peaceful, even with dozens of Taliban fighters dressed in fatigues, or, more casually, in traditional Afghan outfits, keeping their fingers on triggers. This place saw a swift, similar evacuation to the fall of Saigon and many human tragedies less than seven months ago.
A new rule requires foreigners to register upon arrival. They must also fill out forms stating their purpose for visiting, their duration, and their marital status. A strict law can be balanced with the unwillingness of those responsible for its implementation, as is often the case in Central Asia.
“You don’t know your complete address in Kabul, madam? It’s alright. You don’t have a picture? No problem,”As he fills out the form, an immigration officer pushes his way through the crowd of Tashkent-bound passengers.
My flight crew was female, as were many airport workers, despite rumors that the new system would prohibit women from working. One woman, with her black scarf covering her head and mask over her face, starts to speak English. “good old days.” She mentions a women’s empowerment project she used to participate in, and her Western colleagues. She sighs when I ask her how she feels regarding the new government. She shrugs.
“How are the Talibs treating you?”You ask.
“It’s OK,”She replies in her native language. “But, you know, a Talib is a Talib. This word is enough to sum it all. It seems like there’s no way out. There is nothing to be optimistic about. But God is great, let’s see.”
Security, new jobs, revenge
Plaster flowers and stickers are placed on the taxi’s windshield. “Allah.”The rear-view mirror displays a set of prayer beads. He is a bearded man who looks like a scholar and wears a black Turban. However, he said that he was a security guard at airports. The Taliban overthrew Kabul and he fled hiding for a while, fearing that he would end up in jail. “ties with the government.”A few weeks back, however, the airport security chief called and requested that he return to work. But he wasn’t offered the position and now drives a yellow taxi. He is now a “state taxi,”With a permit from the Ministry of Interior Affairs, he explained. He says that it is much safer, particularly for foreigners.
We exit the airport and I inquire about the changes in Kabul’s situation over the last three months.
“There is security, but no job,”He responds. “I was lucky to receive this car.”
Credit where credit’s due – the radicals try to provide security as they interpret it. One checkpoint is at the entrance, one is about a kilometer further, while sometimes, there may be three or four on the same street. Security checks are not very extensive. Talibs inspect passengers by opening the windows as if they were trying to gauge how dangerous they might be just by looking at them. Even though many of the sentries appear to be illiterate, they will open their trunks and request documents. People who listen to music in their car can turn it off. Then they resume listening while the Talibs allow them to go. For show, if there’s a woman in your car (especially in the front), the check is more rigorous.
At the beginning of the republic when the Taliban had an established location and were located in central city near strategic locations like embassies and ministries, they now rotate and are spread around the city. It is impossible to predict where they will be found the next day. There are many patrols that ride in ex-ANA Humvees. Some have an old republican flag still on the doors and chassis.
“They are using our cars now,”Rahim, a former soldier. As he watches a Humvee pass by, he looks irritated. “They are using our weapons; they live our lives. And what happened to my life?”
Seven months ago, Rahim was part of ANA’s Commando Corps. He disguised his identity as a civilian to hide from the Taliban in mid-August 2021. He claimed that he was responsible for many deaths in combat missions to Logar and Helmand provinces. He refused to leave Kabul, unlike many of his fellow soldiers. He now works as a doorkeeper and earns around $150 per month.
“I am sure they will kill me if they understand who I am,”He said.
My attempt to differ is unsuccessful. My understanding is that if someone has been in the military police force or police, they will beat or arrest them. Rahim shakes his heads. “It depends on what unit you were in. It was obvious that we were searching for them. Several of my buddies from the same squad also went missing. They disappeared in Kabul, and nobody knows if they are still alive.”
“If we find a single bullet”
Apart from the extensive network of checkpoints the Afghan militants took more concrete steps to secure Kabul. There was an increase in house to house searches, mostly at night, last month. Taliban authorities claim the raids were intended to target “to detect criminal activity”You can also seize weapons
“Four of them came to my apartment, three foot soldiers and an officer,”Kawoos is currently employed by an American NGO. The two men said: “If we find a single bullet, you will regret it,”So I asked. “What if you don’t find a single bullet?”So the officer ordered me to speak Pashto. The officers were kind and polite. They even removed their shoes so they could enter our home.
According to locals, the main goal was finding Northern Alliance sympathizers. In Khair Khana (a predominantly Tajik-populated area), there had been an initial plan to have a door to door check. However, the Taliban later changed their mind in order to not trigger ethnic conflict. Is it really about stopping people who want to leave? Was it Rahim or was that the real goal? Although there are many suggestions, the facts don’t seem to be available. There is also the possibility of continued searches.
The outcomes of the search seem debatable – in a country like Afghanistan, I was told, one must have at least one gun in the house to protect his property from robbers. Many houses now have no defense because of the guns taken. Weapons can become a necessity for Kabulians amid never-ending rumors of smoldering enmity within the ranks of the Taliban that might flare into open clashes at any time, with the Haqqani network and hardline militants from the east on one side and supporters of the new government’s Deputy Prime Minister Mullah Baradar on the other.
Taliban fighters are still out and about with their weapons whether they dine in a restaurant or go to the Zoo. Signs often decorate lift doors at local malls. “Entry is not allowed with guns” – or just a picture of a crossed-out Kalashnikov.
Apparently, the only area in the city that was not subjected to searches was Wazir Akbar Khan – the so-called green zone that contains a number of embassies, most of нуwhich are currently closed. The area still retains some diplomatic immunity. It is an unspoken law which gives it a bizarre kind of freedom. The Taliban commander next door will turn a blind eye to a party in his house if the volume is reduced.
According to media reports, the Taliban is reducing the number of prohibited items. On the ground, the restrictions don’t feel so tangible. This is more or less what Kabul is like today – there are intimidating humors, but nothing happens; there are numerous restrictions, but you never know which of them you can bypass. As cafes are also open, barbershops are available. You can still see women in high-heeled shoes and makeup on the streets, as well as men dressed in Western clothing. In addition, a portrait of Mullah Omar, a co-founder of the Taliban, looks at the capital from a wall of a guardhouse up on the hill – drawings are not a sin this time.
A huge white Taliban flag flies in the wind high above his head. The official flag-raising ceremony on 31 March emphasized, in a way, that the radicals do plan to hold the power they seized on 16 August – a bitter realization for many supporters of the Afghan republic both in the country and abroad.
With a tiger in a cage
My experience shows that the Taliban are the least popular of all the attitudes expressed by Afghans these days. This is just as it was a few short months ago. “They are not doing anything really wrong right now, but we don’t trust them.”
For example, Nowruz is known also as the Persian New Year. It’s celebrated on the first day of spring. Taliban leaders decided that they would tolerate what they once considered a threat to their country. “pagan holiday”In the 1990s. The government decided not to give Nowruz the national holiday status, but gave people permission to celebrate. Not many decided to do so, but goldfish and other traditional decorations for the New Year’s table were still sold in local markets.
“Kabul was quite different last year,”Farid is a good friend. “Music everywhere, people dancing and hugging in the streets… Right, the Talibs did not prohibit the holiday. Guess why they decided to keep quiet? This is like living in a cage alongside a tigress. He says he is not going to bite you, but you never know.”
Farid and his family invited me to the Paghman valley – a picturesque green place located an hour’s drive from Kabul. Afghans visit the valley to enjoy a picnic, hike, or fly a kite. This activity was banned 30 years ago because it was anti-Islamic. A group of young Afghan girls are snapping selfies in the background on top of a mountain slope. The scene looks almost pastoral – nothing like the Taliban era of the 1990s, as described by Khaled Hosseini in ‘The Kite Runner’.
“Some people think the Talibs are monsters,” says one of Farid’s teenage nieces, who is painting my hands with henna. “But I don’t think they are. They are normal, I think.”
This episode came a couple of days before the Ministry of Education restricted girls above the sixth grade from study – after all the promises given before, and the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice restricted unaccompanied women from boarding flights.
A police siren sounds in the distance in late March 2022. I sent a message for another friend. “Hey, how has Kabul changed since I saw it last time in December? Maybe there is much more than meets my foreign eye?”Ich schreibe.
“Pretty much everything is how you saw it,”The screen displays the response. “[The Taliban] are trying their best where they can.”
“Seems like all the negative changes are related to women’s rights. Then, why not? [do] people mistrust them?”
“What they do has nothing to do with Islam. Is Islam saying that girls cannot study in Islam? No. If so, why not? They know exactly what they mean. We fought jihad for 30 years, do not teach us Islam.”
Kabul still had nightlights visible from its hilltops, but it is not too long before they go out. Afghanistan will no longer be a land of hopes and dreams.