The veil of fear and repression once again descends on Kabul


The Taliban having consolidated their hold on Afghanistan with the fall of the capital Kabul, the question in the minds of its inhabitants is to know how will behave their new leaders.

Will they deploy their extreme version of Sharia or will they, as some Taliban spokespersons have suggested, show a more lenient side? From what residents of recently captured provincial towns have discovered, most of the Taliban are the die-hard fanatics of old – women have been ordered to leave their workplaces and not venture out. from their homes without a male guardian.

Severe justice is to be expected for those considered to have collaborated with “infidel” US or NATO forces over the past two decades. It is also likely that the rich will be subject to heavy “taxes” from Taliban officials eager to enrich their treasure coffers. But what about the ordinary population?

It is a young country with over 60 percent of the population under the age of 25

Certainly, few young people will know what to expect beyond what they have seen on social media and heard from their elders. It’s a young country with over 60 percent of the population under the age of 25 – no one in this age group will have any memory of the last time the Taliban held Kabul, from 1996 to 2001, when they were ousted from power by invading the United States. -directed forces.

I suspect that the people of Kabul, especially the young people, might be in shock. I have visited Afghanistan often over the years – first in 1994, as the Taliban was becoming a military force – and spent several weeks there as a journalist in 2000, when they were in firm control. the city. It was a dark time and my relations with the black turbaned officials of their foreign ministry were strained – I was eventually ordered to leave the country and escorted to the border with Pakistan. During my time there, I got to know firsthand the tough rules of the Taliban.

No one can claim that Kabul was a nice place in the years before the Taliban arrived in 1996. The country was in the throes of a bitter civil war and rockets from besieging Mujahedin forces periodically rained down on the hapless citizens of the capital. . But somehow there was life in the streets and people had their freedom. With the arrival of the Taliban, a veil of fear and repression descended on Kabul and most of the country.

There was virtually no traffic on the streets during the Taliban era – perhaps the only gift they brought to the crowded city – and most shops and restaurants were closed. I only remember one filthy place where my interpreter and I once hid while the religious police patrolled outside, whipping the stragglers who had not yet gone to the mosque for the prayer of the afternoon. The few women who went out in public wore burqas from head to toe, mobile tents of a medium blue or dull brown, forbidden to laugh or even speak. Schooling is prohibited for girls over 12 years old.

The windows of the houses were painted black so that no one could see inside

Taliban rules have always been strict: no television, no children’s toys, and no music or dancing. I remember a conversation with young men in a marketplace – heavily bearded, eyes rimmed with black kohl – who swore they hated music and had no place for it in their lives. Growing up with Van Morrison and U2 I found it hard to understand, but they were adamant. The windows of the houses were painted black so that no one could see inside. The only books allowed were religious texts approved by the Taliban, and no images of living beings were allowed.

We were a small group of visiting journalists, myself and a group of Italians, most of us based as foreign correspondents in the Indian capital, New Delhi. Each of us was assigned a guard who brought us to the Taliban Foreign Ministry every day. The media officer had removed all images from his walls and wrapped in plastic the animal heads adorning his richly carved desk. We were staying at the Inter-Continental Hotel, from which most of the staff had fled. At night, the Italians would go into the kitchen and cook us pasta.

I regret that I did not return to visit the Kabul Museum because, in early 2001, Taliban officials began smashing anything in human or animal form that they believed was blasphemous to Islam with hammers and axes. . And I regret that I did not accept the invitation of the Italians to join them on a journey to the ancient and sculpted statues of Bamiyan. In March 2001, Taliban commanders placed explosives around what were once the tallest Buddha statues in the world and shattered them.

The already struggling economy was quickly wiped out by the Taliban who, while skilled fighters, were not very good at administration. Their offices were mounds of scribbled paperwork, edicts and decrees. Most officials preferred to sit on rugs on the floor, guarding the yard with their henchmen, while all the computers they had inherited were tucked away in a corner.

For young people who roam Kabul’s shopping malls and arcades. . . it will be a bitter pill to swallow

It remains to be seen whether, in their final incarnation, the Taliban will prove to be more capable governors. Their administration of justice, unless it has undergone a radical overhaul, will likely still include stoning to death for adultery, public hangings and amputation of limbs for repeated thefts.

For the young people who wander the malls and arcades of Kabul in their fake jeans and designer T-shirts, it will be a bitter pill to swallow. The young women, who walk around with their faces uncovered, will have to withdraw hastily behind closed doors. Young men, who now play football and cricket in parks, will need to put away their sports equipment. Many of those who could afford it have already left and many more will try to keep up in the weeks and months to come. But for most of the four million residents, especially those who live in the slums and mud brick huts on the hills, there will be no choice but to squat and put up with it – like they did it 25 years ago when the Taliban took control.

  • David Orr is an Irish Irish journalist based in France and former foreign correspondent

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