The Americans have all but disappeared, the Afghan government has collapsed, and the Taliban now rule the streets of Kabul. After 20 years of government backed by the United States, millions of residents of the Afghan capital were forced overnight to fend for themselves in an uncertain transition.
On Tuesday (24), nine days after the Taliban returned to power, public services were still largely unavailable. The people of Kabul are struggling to live their daily lives in an economy which, having been supported a generation ago by American aid, is now suddenly in free fall.
Banks are closed and liquidity is tight as food prices skyrocket. It is more and more difficult to find gas.
As US forces grapple with the international airport for a swift evacuation, the Taliban continue to tighten their grip on Kabul’s neighborhoods and streets. Relative calm reigns in the capital, in contrast to the chaos and MMA seen at the airport. Meanwhile, many residents of the capital are hiding in their homes or cautiously venturing out to see what life might be like under the control of their new rulers.
Stories heard vary from neighborhood to neighborhood and from person to person, offering an evolving and at times contradictory snapshot of life in a city once again ruled by the Taliban, a movement that now promises moderation and inclusiveness, but whose record is that of the membership. to a rigid and uncompromising Islamic social order.
Even residents of Kabul who said they fear the Taliban pointed to the relative order and calm in the streets – a stark contrast to the years of increasing crime and violence that had become a feature of daily life in the city.
For some, however, the silence is oppressive.
A Kabul resident named Mohib said that in his part of town, the streets were deserted. People are hiding in their homes, “scared and terrified”.
“People think the Taliban could come anytime and take everything away from them,” said Mohib, who, like the dozen other residents interviewed for this article, is only identified by first name because of concerns about his whereabouts. security.
In the central areas of the city, with a strong Taliban presence, few women are seen, and those who venture out wear the burqa, the garment that covers the entire body as well as the face, said official Sayed.
In other areas of Kabul, where the presence of the Taliban is less, women go out “in normal dress, as they did before the Taliban,” said Shabaka, adding that she herself had gone out in the street and s was struck by the Taliban without suffering. incident, while he was wearing his “usual clothes”.
Shabaka said there was an underlying climate of fear in his neighborhood, but the situation was calm.
Others had positive things to say about the arrival of the Taliban, unlike their US-backed Afghan predecessors, despised by many for their corruption.
In the Company district on the western outskirts of Kabul, trade and road traffic had almost returned to normal, despite increasing difficulty in finding gasoline.
Truck drivers and bus drivers say Afghanistan’s roads are safer now that the Taliban has consolidated their control over the country. The drivers welcome the removal of dozens of checkpoints where security forces and militias extorted bribes from the population. The checkpoints have given way to a single toll that is paid to the Taliban.
“We are happy with the Islamic Emirate,” said Ruhullah, 34, a resident of Wardak province who drives a passenger bus along the main road between Herat and Kabul. “With the arrival of the Taliban, our problems were solved. No more police harassment or bribe extortion.
In the vacuum created by the fall of the Afghan government, Taliban leaders said they were seeking rapprochement with Russia and former Afghan President Hamid Karzai as they discussed what form a new government would take.
In Kabul, however, there are so far few signs of the presence of a new official in government offices.
Khalid said that in a government section that provides electronic identity documents, there was not a single government official present, not even “a single Taliban to look after us.”
According to him, officials do not show up for work because they fear retaliation from the Taliban.
For the rest of Kabul, staff changes are taking place in other government offices.
“Those who worked for the government have lost their jobs and the Taliban are appointing new employees,” said travel agent Raziq.
The Taliban’s rapid takeover has undermined an already fragile economy largely dependent on foreign aid. As the United States and the International Monetary Fund have stopped sending money to Afghanistan, the Taliban find themselves isolated and facing a financial crisis.
Residents of Kabul said that in addition to banks, “hawalas”, informal establishments that carry out money transfers, are also closed. As the local currency, the Afghani, becomes scarce, people keep the US dollars they have, which are also rarer.
People are running out of money because they don’t have access to their bank accounts, journalist Rahmatullah said. “And they can’t borrow because nobody has money,” he said.
Inflation makes life even more difficult for people. According to Rahmatullah, a five-liter gallon of cooking oil used to cost 500 Afghanis, but is sold for 1,200 Afghans.
Many locals have confirmed that the food is more expensive. But some locally produced vegetables and fruits cost less than before because borders are closed and traders cannot export them, said Hassan, an NGO official. According to him, the price of 7 kilos of apples has dropped from 500 afghanis to 100.
With the money tightening, unemployment is visibly increasing in the city.
“Hundreds of day laborers and construction workers roam the streets every day and there is no employer to give them work,” said the official Sayed. “Kabul is facing a deep poverty crisis.
Residents said rising fuel prices even affected the triumphant group. Some Taliban no longer ride in the Ford Ranger vans they took from the Afghan police. Or, when they are, up to 16 Taliban are seen in a single van, said Raziq, the travel agent.
During the 20 years that the United States has occupied the country, the people of Kabul have been the Afghans most exposed to an alternative view of society, forming a counterpoint to the social view of the Taliban, whose roots are in the areas. rural and in deeply conservative customs. ethnic Pashtuns who dominate the movement.
Thus, Afghans in the capital, especially those who have no memory of life under the Taliban, seem to be the most distressed by the new order.
“People are worried about their lives,” said Saifullah, who runs an informal financial transfer center. “They are not really concerned about reopening their businesses. Schools and educational centers are closed, young students are trying to find a way out of the country. They are not afraid to go back to school.
Young Afghans leave Kabul every day to try to cross the border to neighboring countries, residents of the capital said. Buses to border areas are filled with young people waiting in area hotels for coyotes to pass them through, said Mohammed, a former government official.
“Buses leaving Kabul for border provinces leave full but return empty,” he said, adding that a bus ticket to the border costs more than twice as much as the return ticket to the capital.
Raziq, the travel agent, said that after announcing on Facebook the day before that he could process visas for Uzbekistan, he received 557 text messages and more than 300 phone calls.
For people who have worked with Americans and other Westerners, the sudden withdrawal and the chaos that ensued is a deep betrayal of life that they believed was possible.
Senin, a 22-year-old student, said Taliban fighters prevented her from going to college this week. His two brothers, who worked with US forces, were evacuated. But she remained with her parents and a sister – and Taliban leaders, aware of the family’s ties to the Americans, threatened her family and beat her, she said.
Senin said the situation had become unbearable. “All my dreams have been scattered.”
Translation by Clara Allain