A day with the Taliban 2.0

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 have 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 turn into the primary to report from exterior the capital.

On the Afghan facet of the border, the automobiles 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 carrying the signature turbans and lengthy beards – assured us that they have 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 have been comfortable 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 street to go stay. Passersby have been curious. People started to assemble. One man, clean-shaven and in his 30s or 40s, instructed 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. Were the Taliban fighters mistreating anybody? Were 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. Previously, every truck needed to pay 10,000 to 15,000 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 only make a single fee to the emirate, collected by the Taliban on the border.

Deep scars

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 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 have been quick. He disliked the consolation of the brand new automobiles and missed the mountains and hardships of the battlefield, he defined.

But 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 in regards to 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 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 at nighttime of his windowless cell.

A Taliban fighter reveals Al Jazeera posts and fortified bunkers deserted by retreating US and Afghan  forces [Osama Bin Javaid/Al Jazeera]

Imprisoned and tortured by his American and Afghan captors, Haji might appear to be a perfect candidate to hunt revenge – the type 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 – rapid and resolute – stunned me. “No,” he stated. His battle 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 are binding on all fighters and commanders, to forgive and move on. He gained’t overlook, he added, and if he noticed his Afghan jail guards he would discover it tough. 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 taking part in Taliban battle 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 visitors jams may 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 battle and residents have been getting used to seeing the group’s fighters on town’s streets. The Taliban says it’s establishing a system of safety and justice, however it’ll face an uphill battle to beat the distrust of those that keep in mind it from 20 years in the past and doubt it may handle their rapid socioeconomic hardships in a rustic the place 40 million folks wouldn’t have sufficient to eat and three.1 million youngsters are susceptible to acute malnutrition.

At the guarded gates of the governor’s workplace, the place we have been resulting from meet the native Taliban chief, we have been made to attend whereas our automobiles have been cleared for entry. Once 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 may hear echoes of speeches and hymns – all a part of a victory celebration on the day the US forces withdrew from the nation.

Taliban flags line the streets and squares in Jalalabad [Osama Bin Javaid/Al Jazeera]

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 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.

But 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 only 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.

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.

‘Peace has returned,’ say Taliban officers on the governor’s secretariat, Jalalabad [Osama Bin Javaid/Al Jazeera]

Most of the Taliban leaders we spoke to have been content material with the progress that they had made two weeks after coming to energy and have been targeted on safety and rooting out corruption. Mohammed Hanif is the person accountable 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 because the solar set on our first day in Afghanistan. But at Jalalabad’s major market, avenue 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 finished something unsuitable in two weeks, why have 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’ll take time for his or her households to imagine that the group is just not 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 houses.

Where are the ladies?

So too are many Afghan ladies. There have been fewer ladies on the streets and the boys we spoke to stated it was resulting from an inherent fear of the Taliban. The 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 staff accountable for working it; the identical individuals who have been there earlier than the Taliban took over. Dr Nargas Talash agreed to see us within the ladies’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 fearful. “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 alleged to belief them?

Fewer ladies have been venturing out in native markets in Jalalabad [Osama Bin Javaid/Al Jazeera]

“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 in regards to the hearsay that the Taliban wouldn’t enable ladies to go away their houses with no male guardian. We took their query to a Taliban scholar who instructed us that girls would solely have to be accompanied by a male guardian on journeys lasting longer than three days. There was quite a lot of confusion, he added, arising from propaganda and folks’s assumptions.

Managers on the Nangarhar Regional Hospital confirmed there had been no disruption in medical providers 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 Education Office, 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 country, the culture is like this,” he stated. “All females are also coming to work wearing a hijab.”

What about training?

The Taliban has introduced that girls and boys can be segregated from college to college, explaining that they aren’t in opposition to ladies’s training however in opposition to the blending of the sexes.

We went to a number of public colleges earlier than lastly reaching the training ministry for the province. Here too, it was the identical folks working day-to-day affairs as have been doing it earlier than the Taliban takeover. The downside is that almost all public servants weren’t paid for months. Among them are 2,300 feminine academics – many cautious of working underneath Taliban rule. Nangarhar province’s 900 instructional establishments are resulting from open on September 15, however as we have been driving via town, we noticed some youngsters in uniform – younger women and boys taking part in within the streets on their manner home from a close-by non-public college.

Flags of training ministry and Taliban on the ministry of training, Jalalabad [Osama Bin Javaid/Al Jazeera]

We met the varsity’s principal and requested if we may communicate to among 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 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 photographs 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 fear however desires 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 go away 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.

‘Taliban 2.0’

It was getting late and we needed to reach 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’d cross on the 75km (47-mile) freeway between Jalalabad and Torkham. We returned to the governor’s workplace to get it.

Once we handed via 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 allure 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 have been made in Iran. When I requested whether or not these, too, had been captured, all these within the room smiled and instructed me the candies and toffees on the governor’s home had shortly run out.

‘Misinformation and assumptions [are] adding to people’s fears,’ say Taliban officers on the provincial ministry of data in Jalalabad [Hameedullah Khan/Al Jazeera]

We mentioned every little thing, from safety to frame commerce and the Taliban’s insistence that Chinese funding can be key to stabilising the economic 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 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.

Each Taliban fighter spends a set period of time requisitioned by his unit commander, after which goes home. For the poorest fighters, the Islamic Emirate offers 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 battle of their nation for 20 years.

We talked in regards to the males taking part in in shorts, ladies’s fears, music and Islamic regulation. Pointing at me, they stated some commanders’ actions – the floggings and different punishments – within the 1990s 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 because the Taliban 2.0. It is the world’s lens that’s 2.0, they defined; the Taliban is identical.

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