Propaganda murals and Kalashnikovs in Taliban Kabul
Getting around the city is now easier and safety is better, but economic decline is evident
Special envoy to KabulWorkers perched on ladders work on the outer wall of what was once NATO's headquarters in Kabul - massive concrete walls almost ten metres high that international troops erected to protect themselves from possible attacks. "We're paid, we're just errand boys", one of the workers justifies, trying to wash his hands of any responsibility. Slogans in favour of the Taliban are painted on the wall. "The Islamic Emirate is the sacred source of all dreams", says one that they have already finished. Another, still have half finished, will read: "Government is a responsibility, not a privilege".
All official buildings in Kabul have concrete protection walls. They have been put up in recent years at the stroke of an attack, and so Kabul has been filled with concrete walls. Now many of these walls are full of slogans in favour of the Taliban, because if there is one thing the radicals want to make clear, it is that they are the ones who are now in charge in Kabul. Perhaps the most striking wall is the one that protected the former US embassy: now there is a huge white Taliban flag painted on it.
The Taliban flag also flies outside all the ministries, on some roundabouts and even in some parks. And all pictures of Ashraf Ghani, who was the Afghan president until the Taliban entered Kabul a month ago, have been removed from the streets.
Checkpoints on the streets
All the police checkpoints that flooded the city on almost every street corner have also disappeared. Because that's how it really was: there were police everywhere because the psychosis of a possible attack was constant. Now, however, there are no controls at all and even streets that were previously closed for security reasons have now been opened to traffic. For example, the street where the Home Affairs Ministry is located. For years you could not drive through there and accessing it was almost hell: you had to go through an infinite number of controls. Now you can go through it without any problems. In fact, it is now generally easier than before to move around the city and traffic has been drastically reduced.
Apart from that, little else has apparently changed in Kabul. Everything more or less remains the same. The shops are open and the streets are bustling with people. You may see fewer women than before, but it hardly makes a big difference either. Some wear burqas, but most continue to cover their heads with a simple veil, although many dress more demurely. The chapan, a kind of smock that hides the shape of the body, prevails.
Of course, now you can see vehicles of the former Afghan police passing by every now and then, full of Taliban with Kalashnikovs and white flags. Or you can find at the door of an official building a militiaman who does not look like a Taliban, nor wears a uniform, but carries a Kalashnikov. Additionally, and without a doubt, the economic decline is evident. There are still kilometres of queues in front of the banks every day and the concern for the future is on everyone's lips.
There are hardly any buses in the Afghan capital, and people basically travel in communal taxis. In other words, several passengers travel in the same vehicle and the taxi driver always makes the same route as if it were a bus line. There is a taxi rank in front of the Gulbahar shopping centre in the centre of Kabul. In the past, getting a seat in a vehicle there was almost mission impossible. You had to be patient and wait. On Wednesday, however, there were a dozen taxis standing around with no passengers. "This is a disaster. Before I earned 2,000 Afghanis a day (about 20 euros), and now I barely earn 800 (about eight)," complained a taxi driver, Mohammad Tahir, who blamed the little movement of passengers on the fact that many people have become unemployed and that the University of Kabul is still closed.
In front of the Mahmud Khan Bridge across the Kabul River, a man sells white Taliban flags. "The government gives them to me. I pay seven Afghanis for each flag, and I sell them for twenty or thirty", he says with satisfaction. And, he says, they are successful, many people buy them as souvenirs. The man says he sells the taliban merchandise out of conviction. "The previous government was too corrupt and not Islamic enough".
The Taliban, who banned photographs in the 1990s, now readily allow themselves to be photographed by foreign journalists. They even let them get into their vehicles to film them as they drive around Kabul. "They need money", says one Afghan when he sees a group of Taliban on the street posing for the camera. The Taliban continue to hope that their government will be recognised as the legitimate government of Afghanistan and that foreign funds will once again flow into the country.