International 22/08/2021

Schools, offices and shops closed in Taliban-held Kabul

The only officials who continue to work are traffic wardens

4 min
Taliban at a checkpoint in Kabul

BarcelonaFazel is perhaps one of the people who can best explain what has happened in Kabul over the last week with the arrival of the Taliban. He is in the business of transporting goods with a small pickup truck, so he spends his days driving from one side of the city to the other, and has continued to do so despite the fact that the capital is now in the hands of the fundamentalists. "What choice do I have? I have nine children to feed", he says.

He is paid according to the number of trips he makes each day. And this week, he says, has been disastrous. There were no goods to transport. There were no customers at the place where all the vans in Kabul normally gather waiting for someone to claim their services, and no traders in need of their services. In the whole week, he laments, he has done only one transport and earned 1,000 Afghanis - about 10 euros - whereas under normal circumstances this is what he would charge in a single day.

"Everything is fenced off", he says. Offices, shopping malls, shops, restaurants and even the market near the dry Kabul River, which was always a hustle and bustle of people and hawkers making it difficult to open up between the shops. The exchange market, where hundreds of people went every day to exchange Afghanis for dollars, or vice versa, is not operational either. In fact, there are few people on the street and you hardly see any women, says Fazel.

Closed shops and pictures of women painted over on a Kabul street.

The only shops open are some small food stores, where prices have gone up like crazy. The most expensive thing, he says, is flour. Before a 20-kilo sack cost 1,800 Afghanis (about 19 euros) and now it is up to 2,300 (24). "Bread in the bakeries has not gone up, but now the loaves they sell are much smaller", he complains.

The only good thing is that, with the Taliban, the traffic jams in Kabul are over. Just a week ago there were traffic jams that completely collapsed the city - especially in the early morning and mid-afternoon, when people were going to and from work - to the point that it could take more than an hour to cross the capital from one end to the other. Fazel says he now gets around in his van easily and quickly, except for the streets leading to the airport, which are still clogged with people trying to get to the airfield to board an evacuation flight.

Thousands of people waiting to enter Kabul airport.

Despite the few cars circulating, there continue to be transit wardens, he notes. In fact, they are the only government officials who continue to work, and even wear their usual uniforms. By contrast, the police and military have vanished. It's that surreal. The ones on patrol now are the Taliban, who have checkpoints all over the city and also move around on motorcycles. "I've been stopped a lot of times. They ask me what I'm doing and where I'm going, but nothing else. They don't bother me", Fazel says. Still, he thinks the country is going downhill with the radicals in power.

"They patrol with Afghan police cars and, when they run out of gas, they leave them in the middle of the street, anywhere", he gives as an example. All ministries and government offices are guarded by the fundamentalists and the white flag of their regime flies. They have also put their insignia on the Wazir Akbar Khan mountain, which is relatively close to the Presidential Palace and is where there used to be a pole with a giant flag of Afghanistan. "You don't know who's in charge, or who are real Taliban and who aren't", he concludes.

Schools are also closed. Classes were hastily suspended last Sunday at around 11 a.m., when news spread like wildfire that the radicals were already at the city's gates. "Mothers started coming to the school to take their children, so the headmaster decided we should suspend classes", says one teacher, Hamidullah, who prefers not to give his surname for fear of reprisals.

Hamidullah does not know when classes will resume, but he says there is talk on social media that students could be back in class next week. "I think the Taliban will let the boys and girls go to school, because they went to separate classes beforehand", he says. "But I don't know what will happen in universities and academies, where boys and girls were in the same classroom".

"I won't go to work"

Mastora, who does not want to give her surname either and is initially wary of speaking on the phone when she receives a call from this journalist, says she does not trust the Taliban, whatever they say. She is a civil servant in the health ministry and explains that she stopped going to work two weeks ago because her family advised her to stay at home, as security in the city was beginning to deteriorate. Now she assumes that she will not return to her job. "Even if the Taliban say we women can work, I won't go. I don't trust them", she insists.

Although the health ministry offices are empty, the hospitals are still functioning in theory, according to Dr Mohammad Daud, who works at Isteqlal Hospital in the west of the capital. However, he says that with the arrival of the Taliban in Kabul they discharged the less serious patients and that in the last few days he has only gone to work for a couple of hours.