On the first day without a Western military presence in 20 years in Afghanistan, the country woke up with fear and doubts about the plans of the renewed Taliban regime.
The US ended its withdrawal from Kabul one minute before midnight on Monday (16:29 GMT), avoiding entering the deadline announced by President Joe Biden to end the operation.
“There were shootings throughout the night, with the Taliban celebrating. Nobody said anything, but the TV is no longer showing music programs,” an English teacher named Munir said via e-mail.
Like so many others, perhaps 250,000 people on American accounts, who worked for Western forces, he asks for anonymity and still hopes to flee overland to Pakistan.
Through the capital’s airport, the escape valve that recorded scenes of horror in the last two weeks, the path is closed. The site, the last western stronghold in Kabul, was occupied by the Taliban — despite promises from the group that took over the city on the 15th, nobody knows when and if there will be commercial flights.
The second part of Munir’s account is repeated across the country. The Reuters news agency heard people in Jalalabad, Ghazni and other larger cities. In all of them, TV and radio stations exercise self-censorship by withdrawing programming that might offend the Taliban.
Thus, Turkish soap operas or auditorium programs were suspended, which was reflected in the streets, with the ubiquitous hairdressing salons having photos of women on painted or torn facades.
But the fact is, no one knows exactly what to do. In 2001, the burqa continued to be used in cities like Kabul and Jalalabad, visited by Folha when the Taliban began to retreat under bombs. Women were unaware of the real intentions of the then new owners of power.
In its five years of government, interrupted by American retaliation for the attacks of September 11, promoted by al Qaeda then hidden in Afghanistan, the Taliban imposed a radical reading of sharia, the Islamic law.
Women had no civil liberties and needed to wear the burqa, the traditional Pashtun tunic, the group’s ethnicity. Men needed to grow beards and were beaten by the dreaded police of the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice.
Occasional executions, flogging, and punishments such as amputation of hands occurred frequently, and minorities such as Hazara Shiites or Sikhs suffered systematic persecution.
So far, while the Taliban promises moderation, the signs are worrying. Persecution of people like Munir is a well-documented reality, and in the group’s spiritual capital, Kandahar, an ordinance banned music and female radio hosts. Kabul, in the media’s focus since militants took over on the 15th, looked more like a laboratory for this “light” version of the Taliban.
With the symbolic image of the last American serviceman leaving the country, General Chris Donahue under a night vision lens boarding the ultimate C-17 freighter, being replaced by pickup trucks full of Taliban in American uniforms patrolling the airport runway, uncertainty grows.
Western scrutiny after withdrawal will diminish. It’s not 1996, however, when the country was a major wreck of civil war and there was no running water, constant electricity, internet, or reliable mobile phones. Communications, however precarious, will ensure that reports from people like Munir reach the rest of the world. What will be made of them is another story.
In the military field, in addition to completing the occupation of an airport with around 140 pieces of equipment destroyed by the Americans, including aircraft and armor, the Taliban still faces a resistance pocket 100 km northeast of Kabul.
It is the Panjshir Valley, which never surrendered to the group in its first passage to power, being a stronghold of ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks. According to rebels there, eight Taliban soldiers were killed after an attempted invasion to test their defenses at the western entrance to the valley.
The fundamentalist group, which will also have to deal with the presence of the EI-K (Islamic State Khorasan), the Afghan branch of the terrorist organization, did not comment on the case.
The Taliban inherited a formidable arsenal for a group used to using makeshift rifles and bombs, including lots of ammunition, armor and aircraft that equipped the Afghan Army and its Air Force.
From Kabul, photos emerged of Taliban taking selfies in aircraft cabins, like one of four Afghan C-130 Hercules. According to the US, these planes were disabled for flight, probably with the removal of control software and essential parts.
The same did not happen across the country, although there is doubt about who could fly the aircraft, as most of the country’s aviators fled at the beginning of the crisis, taking 46 aircraft (including perhaps 14 Brazilian Super Tucano light attack aircraft) to Uzbekistan .
Whether the Taliban will repeat in real life the classic scene where Arab rebels don’t understand each other about how to take care of details like sanitation in Damascus taken from the Turks in “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962), is anyone’s guess.
In the West, the debate over blames and recriminations over the way in which the withdrawal was carried out continues. British Chancellor Dominic Raab denied to Parliament that London had forced the maintenance of access to the Abbey gate, the target of a deadly attack on the airport on Thursday (26).
Biden’s National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, on the other hand, reaffirmed in an interview with the ABC network that the country will now continue diplomatic efforts to remove the 100 or 200 Americans who wanted to leave Afghanistan and were unable to do so. The president will speak about the evacuation this Tuesday afternoon.
Angela Merkel, Germany’s leader, for her part, said her country would seek to help refugees in whatever way possible. In all, the action has removed about 124,000 people since the night of the 14th of Kabul, most of them Afghan, and the United Nations predicts an exodus of up to 500,000 fugitives from the return of the Taliban.