The politico-social changes under the Taliban rule
Since 15 of August 2021, the Taliban have taken over the control of Afghanistan, which effectively means that the top positions of government are now filled with new people. The acting ministers of each ministry and department heads appointed by the Taliban have taken charge. It is the secretariat staff- the ones who know how to work with filling systems , computers and maintain paper work- who are still not coming back due to fear of their lives, thus most of the government departments are still paralysed.
On the political front the key decision making is taking place in Kandahar (500 km to the south of capital city Kabul) where the Taliban Amir and his ‘shura’ meets secretly. Although, the Taliban Amir and his shura are key policy makers but in practical terms it is Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, Mullah Yaqoob and Sirajud Din Haqqani who are playing the key role for the formulation of new government set up.
Besides the power play in Kandahar rapid social changes are taking place in Kabul and other urban populated centres in Afghanistan. I would like to share my observations here.
The first thing I noticed at the hotel in Afghanistan was no more wedding parties and thus no more sound of music.
A tale of two months: July and August 2021
I spend the first two weeks of July 2021 in Kabul, shortly before the Taliban take over. I was staying at a local hotel at Sulah Road which was located roughly between the ‘Red Zone’(a cluster of high level government buildings roughly 2 sq km in area) and ‘Shahr-e-Naw’(a newly built downtown commercial market). This location gave me many opportunities to observe life on the street and social activities at the hotel. There would be wedding parties with loud music. Women would attend these parties wearing loud lip colors and make up- sometimes with traditional attire and sometimes western dresses. At that time, I would often walk towards the Kabul’s ‘Shahr-e-Naw’ for lunch or dinner. One day I even chanced across a small yet attractive shop of music instruments , if I remember the name correctly: Guitar Shop!
Exactly a month after my last stay ended, I again visited Kabul and stayed at the same hotel in mid August 2021. This time things were markedly different. It was only two days since the Taliban had taken over. The first thing I noticed at the hotel was no more wedding parties and thus no more sound of music. This time when I walked towards the Shahr-e-Naw I also observed that the sign board of the music shop was taken off and the windows- previously filled with the musical instruments- were now empty. This did not stop here. Following the Taliban control, Afghanistan’s biggest pop star Aryana Sayeed has also left the country. She is probably amongst very few singers and musicians who successfully left the country, however, many are still here but trying to find new jobs to earn money. The Taliban have now formally announced that music is not allowed in the country as it is prohibited in Islam.
I also observed that now women-particularly the young educated women- are not visible in any public departments and private businesses. The ones I talked to or met are not seen in lipstick or makeup nor they would wear the western dresses, instead all I could see were burqas. I saw a flood of burqa clad women around the Hamid Karzai International Airport and in front of various embassies, flanked with children and male family members.
In my meeting with Zabihullah Mujahid- the official spokesman of the Taliban- I raised the question of women rights in Afghanistan to which he replied briefly, “We would give rights to women within the jurisdiction of Sharia, however, we would like that women should play their role in the fields of Education and Health”.
Cautious and Afraid: Signs of Trust Deficit
Mostly young educated men and women are attempting to leave Afghanistan because they have a severe trust deficit for the new Afghan government.
“Everyone is running from this country, I am also attempting to do so. Half of my fellows have fled and rest are trying to flee,” Mujib, 22, a graduate from an American University, told me while standing outside Pakistan Embassy. I asked his reason for attempting to leave to which he said, “We do not trust Taliban because of the past”.
Since the U.S forces and diplomatic staff departure from Kabul, the crowd gathered outside the Hamid Karzai International Airport had visibly declined but the security is still on high alert.
Apart from the airport area, the Kabul city is generally peaceful. The Taliban fighters are present at all the key posts earlier manned by police. Afghan police is not completely present or visible. Only at certain checkpoints the traffic police personals are performing their duties, however, no untoward scenes are taking place.
The banks in Afghanistan are closed following the U.S decision to freeze the 9 billion dollars foreign reserves in their banks. Account holders in the banks are allowed only to withdraw only $200 from their accounts or ATMs. This situation has also resulted into price hike in the country which has further made the lives of common citizens difficult.
The only resistance is being voiced from Panjshir valley which traditionally opposed all the governments in Kabul without their presence. The Taliban have encircled the area of Punisher, and sometimes they carry the limited attacks to further weaken them. Apparently it seems that the Panjshiris won’t be able to resist until or unless they are not given support by any state.
The common people on the streets avoid criticising the Taliban and their incapable governance style due to fear of repercussions, however, a few youth did talk about the Afghanistan flag which is being replaced by the new black and white ‘Emirat e Islami’ flag. This is one of the only few ways of criticising the Taliban. The youth I talked to were of the opinion that the flag must not be replaced.
Talking about the black and white ‘Emirat e Islami’ flag is one of the only few ways of criticizing the Taliban.
Although media plays a key role in any society and the Taliban have announced that they give complete freedom to media, however, most of the prominent journalists have either left the country or job because of the fear of the Taliban. Few working in the industry are also attempting to flee secretly.
Apparently the Taliban’s control in Afghanistan is quickly converting this country in to further conservativism. The peace in Afghanistan has now seemingly coming, however, its price is so high.
Azaz Syed is an award winning Pakistani investigative Journalist and author working with Pakistan’s largest media network @GeoNews_Urdu and @TheNews_Int. His book , The Secrets of Pakistan’s War On Al-Qaeda, published in 2015 and remained best seller in Pakistan.He regularly contributes his opinion in Daily,Jang the largest circulating Urdu language newspaper of the country. Besides this he also contributes his writings in @BBCUrdu. He is the only Pakistani journalist who has witnessed the later rise of the Taliban and fall of the Ashraf Ghani regime as he spent time in Afghanistan shortly before and after the fall of Kabul.