Welcome to Kabul, now things have settled down, we all would like to know what Afghanistan is like now under Taliban rule.
“Welcome to Kabul,” greets a smiling official at passport control. It matters little that the visa was issued by a consulate that still flies the flag of the Republic of Afghanistan and has no contact with the Islamic Emirate under Taliban rule since they came to power last summer. The modest terminal at the international airport receives the few travellers arriving in the country these days with special care. The new rulers want to give a good image to support their demand for recognition.
In fact, apart from the armed guards guarding the premises, there are hardly any Taliban to be seen. Most of the officers, such as the porters who offer to pick up luggage on the conveyor belt, are the same as those who worked before the sudden change of regime last summer. They politely invite foreigners to fill out an arrival form, although once the formality has been completed they ask the traveller to keep it “so that there are no problems on departure under Taliban rule”. The requirement, once the passport has been stamped, seems to be a pretext to ask for a tip. “Since the Taliban have been here, we don’t get our salary”, justifies one of them.
It is a complaint that is repeated in all administrations. In the absence of funds, the Taliban have given priority to paying their militiamen and most civil servants have only received one month’s pay since August. Even so, those who have returned to work continue to turn up every day in the hope of receiving their arrears soon.
In need of administrative support to run the country, the fundamentalists have asked male civil servants to return to their posts, especially at the middle and basic levels. The result seems uneven: in the room that serves as the accreditation office for journalists in the Foreign Ministry, only three of the twenty or so posts are filled. There are no long beards here either. The fundamentalists are in the offices on the top floor where, according to one employee, “the salaries are higher”. Women are not seen anywhere in the workplace now under Taliban rule.
In addition, there are Taliban at the entrance to the ministerial compound. Another place where the attempt to make a good impression is evident. After a brief check, the militia officer in charge of the entry gate smiles at the foreigner and even makes an effort to greet them in English. Inside, the accreditation procedures are not at all cumbersome. The experiences of Afghans, especially Afghan women, in applying for a passport or other documents are another matter, according to several sources. Afghans are finding themselves seriously restricted. They have had their freedom of movement removed. They are now stuck in a country under Taliban rule.
The city has regained a semblance of normality. The queues that were in front of the banks a couple of months ago are now gone. The thousands of internally displaced people who were gathered in the parks have now apparently been sent back to their places of origin in buses by the new authorities. Men and women stroll through the centre, buy fruit from stalls and even share tables in cafés and restaurants where few customers pay attention to the separation of the sexes that the Taliban are trying to generalise.
When you go out on the street again, the contrast is stark. Not only because of the low temperatures that already herald winter but also because of the army of beggars that accost the patrons. Children, the elderly, the crippled and even a woman who hides the shame of begging under her burqa begging for help to eat. These are the faces, with names, surnames and painfully personal stories, of the poverty figures with which the UN is trying to draw to the world’s attention. Ninety-five per cent of the 39 million Afghans no longer have enough to eat decently, 23 million are on the brink of starvation (including three million children under the age of five) and there are still 3.5 million internally displaced people who will spend the cold season under precarious tents and without enough shelter.
The farcical show that the Taliban’s are putting on to resemble some form of normality is obviously false. You can see that straight away. Their people are now suffering. There is no money, women have lost all of their rights. Under Taliban rule life has become extremely desperate for all Afghans except for the militiamen.
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