Kabul: After the United States withdrew from Afghanistan, the Taliban reveled in their victory and reiterated on Tuesday their commitment to bring peace and security to the country after decades of war. At the same time, their anxious citizens are waiting to see what the new order looks like.
After shaming the world’s most powerful military, the Taliban are now facing the challenge of managing a country of 38 million people heavily dependent on international aid, and imposing some form of Islamic rule on a more educated than before , A more international population. The last time the organization ruled Afghanistan was in the late 1990s.
Thousands who had worked with the U.S. and its allies, as well as up to 200 Americans, remained in the country after the massive airlift ended with the last U.S. soldiers flying out of Kabul international airport just before midnight Monday.
Hours later, turbaned Taliban leaders flanked by fighters from the group’s elite Badri unit toured the abandoned airport and posed for photos. “Afghanistan is finally free,” Hekmatullah Wasiq, a top Taliban official, told The Associated Press on the tarmac. “Everything is peaceful. Everything is safe.”
He urged people to return to work and reiterated the Taliban’s offer of amnesty to all Afghans who had fought against the group over the last 20 years. “People have to be patient,” he said. “Slowly we will get everything back to normal. It will take time.”
Since the Taliban quickly took over the country in mid-August, a prolonged economic crisis has worsened, with people flooding into banks to maximize the daily withdrawal limit of approximately US$200. Civil servants have not received their wages for several months, and the local currency is depreciating. Most of Afghanistan’s foreign exchange reserves are abroad and are currently frozen.
Abdul Maqsood, a traffic policeman on duty near the airport, said: “We continue to work, but we are not paid.” He said that he has not received wages for four months.
A severe drought threatened food supplies, and thousands of people who fled the Taliban’s lightning attack remained in the dirty camp.
“Afghanistan is on the brink of humanitarian disaster,” said Ramiz Alakbarov, the local UN humanitarian coordinator. He said that the aid required $1.3 billion, of which only 39% has been received.
The challenges faced by the Taliban in revitalizing the economy may have influence on Western countries as they push the organization to fulfill its promises to allow free travel, form an inclusive government, and protect women’s rights. The Taliban stated that they hope to maintain good relations with other countries, including the United States.
There are few signs that the Taliban imposed severe restrictions when they last took office. The school has reopened to boys and girls, but Taliban officials said they will study separately. The women took to the streets wearing Islamic headscarves as usual, instead of the all-encompassing burqas that the Taliban used to demand.
“I’m not afraid of the Taliban,” Masuda, a fifth-grade student, said when he went to school on Tuesday.
When the Taliban ruled the country for the last time, from 1996 to 2001, they banned television, music and even photography, but there is no sign yet. The television station is still operating normally, and Taliban fighters can be seen taking selfies around Kabul.
On Tuesday, the sound of dance music came from an upscale wedding hall in Kabul, where celebrations were in full swing.
The 26-year-old manager Shadab Azimi (Shadab Azimi) said that since the Taliban took over, at least seven weddings have been held, and the celebrations have been moved to daylight for safety reasons. He said that the Taliban have not announced any restrictions on music, but the wedding singer has cancelled it out of cautious consideration and forced him to use tapes.
Azimi said that the Taliban patrol would come several times a day, but only asked if he needed security assistance. He said that unlike the disbanded police who had been overthrown and a Western-backed government, the Taliban did not ask for bribes.
“Former officials including the police always ask us for money and force us to entertain their friends for lunch and dinner,” he said. “This is one of the positive aspects of the Taliban.”
Abdul Waseeq, 25, runs a women’s clothing shop in downtown Kabul selling Western-style jeans and jackets. The Taliban have left him alone, but his clientele seems to have vanished and he’s concerned about the banking crisis.
“Most of our customers who were buying these kinds of clothes are gone, evacuated from Kabul,” he said.
For now, the Taliban appear to be less interested in imposing restrictions on daily life than on getting the country running again, a task that could prove challenging to fighters who have spent most of their lives waging an insurgency in the countryside.
They are expected to focus on the Kabul airport, where scenes of desperation and horror played out for weeks as tens of thousands fled in a massive U.S.-led airlift.
Early Tuesday, the airport was littered with artifacts of the withdrawal. Inside the terminal were scattered piles of clothes, luggage and documents. Several CH-46 helicopters used by American forces were parked in a hangar. The U.S. military says it disabled 27 Humvees and 73 aircraft before leaving.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said a “technical team” would survey the airport and try to restore normal operations, potentially requesting help from Qatar or Turkey, which have been involved in negotiations on running the airport going forward.
The Taliban have said they will allow people with legal documents to travel freely, but it remains to be seen whether any commercial airlines will be willing to offer service.
“I hope you will be very cautious in dealing with the nation,” Mujahid said in a speech at the airport, addressing the Taliban fighters gathered there. “Our nation has suffered war and invasion, and the people do not have more tolerance.”
At the end of his remarks, the fighters shouted: “God is greatest!” Despite billions of dollars in Western aid over the past two decades, more than half of Afghans survive on less than a dollar a day. For the poorest, the change from one ruling system to another hardly matters in their daily struggle to survive.
Sal Mohammad, 25, collects scrap metal and sells it to support his wife and 2-year-old daughter. On a good day, he makes about $5. “I don’t feel that anything has changed in my life since the Taliban took over Kabul,” he said. “I don’t care about any of them, neither the Taliban, nor the government, nor the U.S. I would like peace in my country, nothing more.”