Afghanistan under Taliban: Men growing beard, women harassed

The last Bhutanese working in Kabul with the UN, Gurung (name changed) provided a first-person account of the situation to The Bhutanese

Taliban pointing a rifle at a woman
Taliban pointing a rifle at a woman

Tenzing Lapsang

Qatari and Turkish technicians were working this week to fix the technical aspects at the Kabul airport like the Air Traffic Control Tower because the Taliban do not have people trained to man the airport, informs Gurung from Kabul.

Explaining his decision to stay back, he said that the UN’s presence in Kabul was needed by the people and added that he also did not want to risk his life by going to the airport at this point as it is not safe.

An option for the UN staff which was being explored was to take a helicopter ride from Kabul into Pakistan and then a flight from there, but the Taliban are currently not allowing helicopters as they fear that the ISIS-K could bring down a UN helicopter. This is the last thing that the Taliban wants, given the important role that the UN has to play.

He pointed out that in 2011 a US Chinook helicopter had been shot down killing all 32 on board. Gurung said the Taliban is still worried about the ISIS-K’s ability to attack aerial targets.

The biggest worry for the Taliban at the airport is that with the US withdrawal, they have taken away the C-RAM or Counter- Rocket Artillery Mortar which is a system that can, as the name suggests, bring down incoming rockets and mortar. ISIS-K had fired 6 rockets into the Kabul airport in the past but the US C-RAM system had detected and brought them down before real damage could be done.

People are only allowed to withdraw USD 200 per week, which is now around 20,000 Afghani. The Taliban is asking Afghan civil servants and police to return to work but there is no money to pay their wages and the Taliban have no plans on how to revive the economy.

Gurung said that there is a big shortage of food and shortage of fuel.“Winter is approaching, which starts here from October and November and people depend mostly on Kerosene for heating,” said Gurung. He assessed that Afghanistan will be facing food, security, fuel and economic crises in the next few months, if not weeks.

Gurung said another issue is that the Taliban is not one group but comprises several factions and tribes.

“These different tribal overlords have their own tribal armies of 500 to 1,000 each and they all joined the Taliban to get lucrative government profiles and if the Taliban cannot keep everybody happy then they could start fighting against the Taliban or could defect to other groups like the ISIS-K”.

While a humanitarian crisis is developing, he said, “from our side we are providing humanitarian assistance like food, shelter etc for the internally displaced people; with so many of them we had to establish camps with proper sanitation and hygiene”.

The UN compound had 200 to 300 Afghan women working, half of whom were housekeeping staff and the rest worked in offices and for projects. After the fall of Kabul on 15th August, the women have all stopped coming. The UN is allowing them to work from home and although the housekeeping staff cannot do that, they are being paid.

Most women are staying indoors and come out only if absolutely necessary as they do not want to be harassed by the Taliban. Even the men have given up suits and western clothes and now wear the traditional Afghan dress with pants that must end six inches above the heel.

There are currently around 115 staff working in the UN compound in Kabul of different nationalities. A couple of hundred US citizens too are still in Afghanistan. Although USA has evacuated 130,000 people, there are still SIV cases left behind. Special Immigration Visas are for people who have worked with western countries or agencies.

While alcohol was officially always banned in Afghanistan as an Islamic country, Afghans would drink at UN or diplomatic parties in embassies. With the Taliban in power, drinking has stopped. Men have also stopped shaving and are trying to grow beards.

Gurung said his wife in New York and his two sons one of whom is a doctor in the USA and another is working in Canada are all worried about him and they want him to return. He plans to first go to New York to his family and visit Bhutan next year.

(Edited excerpts of report first published in The Bhutanase.)

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Published: 10 Sep 2021, 6:30 PM