'A wolf in sheepskin is still the wolf', say common Afghans of the Taliban

The common Afghans find it hard to trust the Taliban despite all the assurances. The youth have heard a lot of gory stories from the past. They are scared, worried and stare at an uncertain future

A street in Kabul after Taliban's takeover
A street in Kabul after Taliban's takeover
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Mohd Asim Khan

Fear is the word that is ruling the streets and households of Kabul in Afghanistan. Every normal Afghani you speak to, whether in Afghanistan or outside, would repeat the words “scared” and “terrified” at least half a dozen time during a five-minute conversation. Those living outside feel “worried” for their families back home.

People are desperate to get out of the country that is now in the clutches of the Taliban. Some even have visas and air tickets but can’t get out as no regular flights are operating. They are still luckier as many don’t have visas and passports and with all government offices shut, procuring travel documents is next to impossible right now. In desperation, people are sending out messages to friends and acquaintances in the flickering hope of getting some help from somewhere.

“I have my visa and tickets ready and I went to the airport but returned after seeing the situation there,” Khatera, a Kabul-based student enrolled with a university in India told National Herald over the phone. “My Indian visa is valid till September. If I don’t get a flight by then, I don’t what would happen to us,” she added.

Most of the shops in Kabul are closed and there is power outage in many parts of the city. The residents do not know who to call for help as government offices are shut. In fact, there is no government right now. “Only supermarkets are open and those who have money can buy food from there. But I don’t know how the poor people would be managing,” she said.

Not only those stranded in the country, even those outside are scared of the Taliban. Most of the Afghans NH spoke to requested us to not reveal their identities lest any harm should come their way.

“Several of my family members are stuck in Kabul. I am trying to arrange visas for them. Any country. I have also sent SOS to my friends in India,” said Arbab (name changed), a journalist currently based in the US.

But why on earth are people so scared of the Taliban, especially after they look “reformed” and more accommodating now? They are also willing to forget and forgive.

A street in Kabul after Taliban's takeover
A street in Kabul after Taliban's takeover

“See, the Taliban leaders says all the good things but their foot soldiers don’t exactly follow it. They are mostly people from the hills who have grown up in a war-torn country. They are rough, have an extremist ideology and are totally different from the kind of citizenry in Kabul or other cities. We can’t trust these people with the safety of our families,” said Arbab.

But there are reports of growing support for the Taliban in Afghanistan? “May be some people support them, especially in the provinces. Some people may like Sharia laws to be imposed. But educated people living in Kabul, those who have been to other countries are not keen to accept any rigid laws steeped in religious ideology,” he added.

The emergence of the Taliban and their sudden appearance on the doorstep of Kabul, has left most urbane people petrified. Especially, the educated, working women are most scared as they are the most vulnerable in the Taliban’s rigidly patriarchal societal order.

“It’s like hell. We are alive but Qayamat has happened for us before the actual Qayamat (doomsday). There is hopelessness all around,” said Shazia, an Afghan filmmaker based out of New Delhi. “My family was trying to get out but nobody had guessed that things would change so quickly and so drastically.

They are stuck now and I am worried for their safety,” she added.

What is the fear about? “We have heard and read a lot of stories of their brutality during their first rule (1996-2001). We shudder to think what if that happens again,” said Shazia.

But Taliban claim to have reformed now. They are speaking of amnesty, and allowing women to work and not be rigid with the beard and burqa dress code etc. “They are speaking this language to gain global acceptability. But believe me, a wolf in sheepskin is still the wolf. Tell me, will the countries that are warming up to Taliban like to implement Taliban-like laws in their countries? Will they?” said the filmmaker bitterly.

Taliban patrolling the streets of Kabul
Taliban patrolling the streets of Kabul

“Hardly a fortnight back, they pressurised a family in Badakhshan to get their 12-year-old girl married to a Talibani fighter. For them, girls above 12 years of age are fit for marrying much older men. This is repulsive,” she added.

The way President Ashraf Ghani fled the country left the citizens feeling helpless. “On the day the Taliban entered the city and Ashraf Ghani fled, I had stepped out for some work. The policemen and soldiers on the streets were scared to death. They did not know what to do and where to go. Some of them were asking people for civilian clothes. They wanted to get rid of their uniforms,” recalled Khatera.

“The Taliban fighters have long hair and shabby looks. You just can’t look at them. Our soldiers and policemen used to be very neat and well groomed. But these men are scary,” she said.

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The common Afghans stare at an uncertain future. At the moment they are just scrambling and jostling to save their lives and resources and get out of the mess. But what after that?

“My mind has just stopped working. I don’t know what will be our future, where and how we would live,” admitted Najeeb, a Hazara Shia living in Delhi who works in the healthcare industry. “We get our visa renewed every year.

But since the lockdown, the work has been erratic. I don’t know how long can we live in India.”

Concurred Haroon Mujaddadi, who runs a restaurant in Lajpat Nagar, Delhi, “There is a lot of uncertainty in my country. My fiancée and her family are stranded in Kabul. None of them is stepping outside. I am trying that they get out of Afghanistan, but their passports are not ready. The government offices are closed.”

“We just cannot trust the Taliban despite all their assurances. I would not like to go back to Afghanistan under Taliban rule, not for a day,” he said dispassionately.

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Published: 21 Aug 2021, 6:00 PM