Midwife Nooria Haya’s workdays included regular meetings and discussions with male doctors. Together, they decided on treatments for the residents and priorities for the public clinic where she works in Ishkamish, a sparsely-serviced rural district of Takhar province, on Afghanistan’s northeast border with Tajikistan.
But recently, the 29-year-old discovered that dating between male and female employees was prohibited.
It was the first order the Taliban gave them when the group took control of the area, he said.
Nooria began to wonder what her life would be like in the future.
Ishkamish is located in the mountainous region of the Hindu Kush. It is a key border area that the Taliban took control after NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) withdrew the 10,000 troops it had in the region.
The Islamic fundamentalist group took control of the neighborhood after intense clashes with apparently unprepared government forces.
Residents were aware of the advance of the Taliban.
“We were all scared,” Agha, 54, who lives in the Arghistan district on the Pakistani border and a two-hour drive from Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second largest city after the capital Kabul, told the BBC.
The inhabitants began to lock themselves in their homes. But with the rapid advance of the Taliban, it was not possible to escape.
Islamist activists began to roam the streets in the morning and afternoon. Some started knocking on doors asking for food.
The villagers gave them what they feared to be attacked.
“It doesn’t matter how poor you are,” says Jan, a fruit seller who lives in the neighborhood. “Each house now keeps three or four loaves of bread or plates of food for itself,” he adds.
Also, if the activists want to stay in the houses, they can.
During the month of June, the Taliban seized several towns and forced the Afghan army into a strategic retreat.
The Afghans criticize the departure of international troops which they consider too hasty. Many point out that the peace talks of the past two years have only served to increase the ambition, recruitment and legitimacy of activists.
And the end of the conflict – which began with a US-led invasion 20 years ago and resulted in the overthrow of the Taliban regime – has not happened.
When the Taliban resurfaced in June, their militants succeeded, out of fear, more than food and a place to sleep.
The social and economic rights acquired over the past 20 years have suddenly come to an end. Nooria was able to feel, for the first time, the impact of the bans against women.
“There are a lot of restrictions now. When I leave the house, I have to wear the burqa, as ordered by the Taliban, and a man has to accompany me, ”Nooria explains.
Traveling as a midwife in the district is particularly difficult. Men can’t shave their beards because the Taliban say it’s against Islam.
Hairdressers are prohibited from making foreign cuts.
A group within the Taliban called Amri bil Marof (“Order of Good”) enforces the rules of socialization. His punishments were the ones that terrified Afghans in the 1990s.
Now they are applying their own law again: first, they issue a warning; the punishment comes later: public humiliation, imprisonment, beatings, flogging.
“Suddenly most of our freedoms were taken away from us,” says Nooria. “It’s so difficult. But we have no choice. They are brutal. We have to do what they say. They use Islam for their own purposes. We are all Muslims, but their beliefs are different. “
These differences also translate into more security and less warfare, as the conflict has shifted to other areas.
Residents welcome this calm, as they would if the government were in charge. But they doubt its durability.
But nothing is like before. Afghans used to visit Takhar, famous for its mountains and fresh air.
In the Farkhar neighborhood, taxi driver Asif Ahadi remembers making around 900 Afghans ($ 11). But with the arrival of the Taliban, tourism ended.
“The tourists were my clients,” says 35-year-old Asif. “The money they paid me I used to feed my family. which has now more than doubled. “
And the presence of activists had a negative impact on their social life.
“People were partying every Friday night, listening to music and dancing, having fun. Everything is completely forbidden now,” Asif explains. “All businesses have suffered in the same way.
On July 4, two days after US and NATO troops left Bagram Air Base, the largest in Afghanistan, where US operations had been focused for two decades, the Taliban captured Panjwai district. in Kandahar province.
It is the place where the group emerged and has always been considered its stronghold.
And less than a week later, they took control of Iran’s main border point, Islam Qala.
In the third week of July, another important achievement: the group already controlled 90% of border points and 85% of the territory of the country.
At the time, the Afghan government denied these figures. But the Taliban increasingly controlled urban areas.
As the group increased its control, people began to leave their homes. Many of them had never seen how the Taliban delivered justice and ruled the areas under their control.
“They make decisions quickly on issues like crime,” says Asif. “There is no bureaucracy, no bureaucracy; all kinds of problems can be solved in a matter of days and no one can challenge a decision.”
Activists have also started collecting some sort of handout for the poor, around 10% of the agricultural sector’s harvest or part of its income.
But the Taliban have made it a tax to keep it running.
This adds more financial pressure on the local population. Not to mention the “soaring commodity prices,” Asif says, as foreign and domestic trade is restricted and the economy suppressed. Public works are stopped.
“People were already very poor and there are no job or investment opportunities,” he adds.
However, for some, there is nothing new about what is happening now.
“Their ideology and thinking are exactly the same as in the days of the Emirate (the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, as the country was known under the Taliban regime in the 1990s). Nothing has changed, ”says Jan. “The Taliban say they sacrificed a lot to reestablish the Islamic Emirate.”
Jan points out that the Taliban have closed all schools in their area. The group says any education should be carried out in accordance with its strict interpretation of Islamic law. This is one of the sources of concern for those who live there.
Under their last government, from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban banned the education and work of women and girls and restricted their access to health care.
Since being ousted from power, women have returned to positions in public life, constituting a quarter of parliament.
The number of girls in primary education has risen to 50%, while at the end of secondary school they are only 20%.
Women’s life expectancy has increased from 57 to 66 years. Compared to other countries, Afghanistan’s statistics are poor, but there have undoubtedly been improvements.
However, now there is only the fear of going back.
The Taliban have advanced massively. They took several important cities and, this Sunday (8/15), the capital Kabul. So they came to control all of Afghanistan. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has fled.
The US Air Force has supported the Afghan army with attacks. But the last foreign contingents are expected to leave the country on September 11.
The date marks the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks by al-Qaeda in the United States, which led to the George W. Bush-led invasion of Afghanistan to remove the Taliban from power for harboring Osama bin Laden and other figures of the extremist organization Al-Qaeda.
And this fight is wreaking havoc on human lives. A thousand civilians died in the first week of August, according to the UN. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes.
With Afghanistan now under Taliban control, the change is clear.
“You have to put your head down to live your life,” says Jan. “You cannot dare to oppose them. You cannot say anything against them. If they say ‘yes’, you have to say ‘yes’. They say ‘no’, you have to say ‘no’.
And this fear is permanent, says Nooria.
“Even when people seem relaxed, when you talk to them, you understand the serious concerns they have. We pray that God will take them away from us.”
* The names of respondents in this article have been changed to protect their identity.