Sixteen years after they were ousted inside US-led invasion, the Taliban have fought their way back to control swathes of Afghanistan. The country remains mired in conflict, along with also recent months have seen a series of bloody attacks. inside south, key towns are at This particular point Taliban territory. The BBC’s Auliya Atrafi was invited by the militants to spend four days behind the front line in Helmand province witnessing life under their control.
inside town of Sangin, two dozen men sat cross-legged inside a huge mud compound. Under the full moon, their black turbans cast deep shadows over their sunburned features.
These were the Taliban’s special forces; the Red Unit. They sat quietly as they listened to their commander Mullah Taqi telling war stories, gently cradling their M4 machine guns. The M4s, with their night-vision scopes, were one of the main reasons they had captured nearly 85% of Helmand province through less-well-armed Afghan forces.
however these victories had presented Taliban leaders with an unexpected challenge.
The people they at This particular point ruled had lived with government services for more than a decade. Schools, hospitals, development – residents had become accustomed to them. So how could a group entirely focused on taking territory evolve into one in which could attempt to run This particular?
Who are the Taliban?
- The hardline Islamic Taliban movement swept to power in Afghanistan in 1996 after the civil war which followed the Soviet-Afghan war, along with also were ousted by the US-led invasion a few years later
- In power, they imposed a brutal edition of Sharia law, such as public executions along with also amputations, along with also banned women through public life
- Men had to grow beards along with also women to wear the all-covering burka; television, music along with also cinema were banned
- They sheltered al-Qaeda leaders before along with also after being ousted – since then they have fought a bloody insurgency which continues today
- In 2016, Afghan civilian casualties hit a brand-new high – a rise attributed by the UN largely to the Taliban
Setting up our visit to Taliban territory took months. This particular had been years since a journalist with international media had secured such access. however in mid-May, we crossed the frontline in Gereshk, following a boy on a motorbike. We drove on the main Kabul-Herat highway towards Kandahar.
Just by an Afghan National Army post, the boy suddenly turned left, leaving the highway behind, along with also rode into scattered settlements. He handed us over to two Taliban guards who were manning a makeshift base. One sat with us inside car, while the different led us on a motorbike towards the Zanbulai area.
There, waiting for us. was Mullah Taqi, the head of Taliban special forces. He stood having a group of his men, all nursing sophisticated weaponry.
Throughout the visit we were accompanied by a Taliban media team who controlled what we saw.
We were not allowed to film anything to do with opium. The opium trade is actually synonymous with This particular region – Afghanistan produces about 0% of the planet’s opium – along with also helps fund the Taliban.
I tried to explain to their media head, Asad Afghan, the English concept of “an elephant inside room”. He put his hand on my shoulder along with also said: “Opium is actually our economic necessity, however we hate This particular as much as you do.”
The fact is actually the Taliban need the money they get through drugs – This particular buys arms along with also helps fund their fight.
Our first encounter with Taliban governance came inside market. Sangin has been fiercely contested for more than a decade – hundreds of UK, US along with also Afghan troops lost their lives here – along with also finally fell to the Taliban in March This particular year.
The old Sangin bazaar had been flattened inside battle for the city. We walked through its makeshift replacement, a sea of tarpaulin along with also boxes. Two men were arguing by a food stall.
“I can’t read!” shouted shopkeeper Haji Saifullah. “How was I supposed to know the biscuits were out of date?” He fidgeted with his turban, pushing This particular to one side nervously.
The different man was the Taliban mayor of Sangin, Noor Mohammad. He ordered Haji Saifullah to be imprisoned for three days along with also to pay a fine.
Next on the mayor’s list was inspecting petrol containers to see if they had been altered to pour under the promised gallon. After in which came examinations for people who claimed to be doctors, however who he suspected were lying.
Later we drove to Musa Qala, the Taliban’s de facto capital. Just short of the town, we stopped at a travelling bazaar set up on a dry riverbed.
Musa Qala is actually famous for the opium trade however This particular is actually also a commercial lifeline for the district. Traders come here all the way through the Afghan-Pakistan border areas.
At the bazaar you could buy motorbikes, cows, ice-cream – along with also less conventional commodities such as ammunition.
Bullets for an AK47 were 25 cents (15p) each. Bullets for a Russian machine-gun used to be 40 cents each, however were reduced to 15 cents because – according to the shopkeeper – too many of them had been captured through the Afghan security forces.
While the Taliban focus on health, safety along with also trading standards in Sangin was surprising, more discoveries awaited us in Musa Qala. Despite This particular being the Taliban capital, the school along with also hospital were still being funded by the government in Kabul.
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“The government recently did their inspections; our schools were officially registered; our salaries in which were locked for a year were later released,” said Abdul Rahim, the government’s head of education for Musa Qala.
He said the Taliban did not have any problem with government inspectors, along with also in which the system was working.
“The government give us stationery along with also everything else, we implement the government syllabus along with also the Taliban don’t have a problem with This particular,” he said.
however not everything was running smoothly. Across Afghanistan, about 40% of pupils enrolled in schools are female, according to US Aid. Not in Musa Qala, however. No girls over the age of about 12 were being educated inside Taliban capital. however girls were deprived of education here even before the Taliban took hold, because This particular is actually a very conservative area.
For the boys, meanwhile, there were not enough basic supplies.
“The way our school is actually run is actually not bad, as in security, however we have one problem along with also in which’s we don’t have enough books,” said one student, Dadul-Haq. “One student will be missing maths, the different chemistry – not all pupils hold the same books.”
This particular struck me in which in education, at least, the Taliban are tentatively experimenting by allowing wider access to education – at least for boys – than during their earlier regime. Under them, before 2001, many fewer boys went to school inside countryside. however experiences like Haji Saifullah’s – the biscuit seller in Sangin – have made rural Afghans realise in which education along with also literacy are essential. They will not turn you into an infidel, as their forefathers feared.
at This particular point the Taliban appear to have realised in which they cannot fight the modern world forever, so some have opted to join This particular on their own terms.
Asad Afghan, the Taliban’s media co-ordinator, used a proverb to make his point. “The fire may have burnt our house, however This particular made our walls stronger,” he said. He meant in which the Taliban had learned through the past mistake of isolating themselves through modernisation.
Many say the Taliban have brought some security – albeit with limited freedoms – to the countryside they control. Areas used to years of fighting between troops along with also militants are at This particular point seeing a dramatic rise in trade. Many people say they prefer the Taliban’s swift – however flawed – system of justice to the previous administration, which they say was riddled with corruption along with also patronage.
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We visited the district hospital which, like the school, was funded by the government however run by the Taliban. This particular is actually meant to serve 0,000 people, however lacked many basic facilities. There was not one female doctor; neither was there a paediatric specialist. This particular wasn’t even possible to get a chest X-ray.
To cater for women the Taliban had built a separate facility next door, run by female staff.
One doctor said the dual system had created a responsibility vacuum along with also opened the door to corruption. “I haven’t been paid inside past six months – not only me however also the entire staff of the hospital,” he said.
“[Government] supervisors write things on paper in which don’t turn into reality. Our medicine for three months doesn’t last us more than a month along with also half… This particular is actually because sometimes the Taliban come along with also want medicine for themselves.”
We asked the Taliban’s supervisor for health services, Attaullah, if we could interview a female nurse, however he refused.
Her husband told him in which he had no problem with the interview, however Attaullah said: “This particular is actually your right to allow the interview along with also my responsibility to stop This particular.
“What would certainly be the difference between us along with also the government if we allowed interviews with women?”
During the four days I was in Taliban territory, I only saw women in clinics along with also being transported around by their male relatives. however men here have always preferred women to stay at home out of sight. Even if the Taliban were not here, This particular is actually unlikely things would certainly be very different.
Some activities were limited. In Musa Qala, using mobile phones along with also the internet was banned for security along with also religious reasons – our Taliban media handlers communicated via walkie-talkies. Filming along with also playing musical instruments are also not allowed. One young man told me he was given 40 lashes for watching a Bollywood film.
The Taliban have cracked down on bachabaze – dance parties involving teenage boys in which can often end in sexual abuse. They also come down hard on homosexuality, although This particular appears the Taliban legal process can be influenced having a mixture of pulling strings along with also bribes.
There are contradictions. We were allowed in to film, for example. along with also we passed billboards in which featured pictures of Western women advertising dental clinics – a far cry through the days when the Taliban banned such images.
Despite the internet ban, there are wi-fi hotspots providing a connection to the outside world. A few dedicated fans of Turkish along with also Indian soap operas have televisions connected to smaller satellite dishes.
“Aren’t you scared the Taliban will find out?” I asked one teenager. “They know about our TV along with also the wi-fi,” he said. “however I think they are just watching along with also waiting, to see what happens.”
During our visit, we were aware in which the Taliban were treating us carefully, mindful of creating a not bad impression. Equally, Sangin along with also Musa Qala are important to them, so keeping local people happy matters. We heard reports in which Taliban control in different places was more rigid.
For the Taliban, beginning to adapt inside face of modernity seems to be a painful dilemma: embrace This particular along with also you lose control along with also religious legitimacy; reject This particular along with also you become an island.
When This particular comes to governance, the Taliban’s Achilles heel is actually thought to be their political philosophy, or rather the lack of This particular. through the start, their focus has been on war along with also there has been little scope for political thinking to evolve. Their success has become their greatest nemesis.
As a white-bearded school headmaster put This particular: “The Taliban see everything through the prism of war, along with also they see winning wars as their sole purpose in life.”
I reminded him in which the Taliban also had a culture of obedience along with also were disciplined, so didn’t he think they would certainly be able to direct their devotion to war into the art of politics? He dropped his head, thought for a moment along with also shook his head doubtfully. He didn’t think so.
At night, we would certainly dine with local Taliban leaders along with also discuss these themes.
One evening a Taliban leader strove to convince us of the benefits of life under the Taliban by contrasting This particular with the failings of the Afghan government. however This particular struck me in which the planet they wanted to create was too absolute for a human society.
I suggested in which society was messy, complicated along with also always in transition, along with also wondered how successful any government would certainly be trying put This particular in a fixed framework.
The leader, Musavir Sahib, was a tiny man, with long beard along with also blue eyes. He was adamant: “Our governance is actually based on sacred scripture; This particular is actually the best solution for any human society.
“Afghans are adaptable people,” he added. “When we took over the country for the 1st time, very soon people started off dressing up like us. along with also then when the Americans came, they started off dressing up like the Americans. So surely they will adopt our governance again.”
He could not conceive in which people could oppose Taliban rule along with also were coerced by them into doing what they wanted.
Back inside government-held territory, I realised in which describing the insurgent group had become less straightforward along with also full of contradictions. The Taliban have changed significantly while at the same time they are stuck in their past; they feel they have to adapt to the modern world while thinking theirs is actually the best way of governance.
inside areas they hold, they seem to be trying to provide a peaceful existence, however elsewhere they continue carrying out their deadly bombings. Their goal to create their specific kind of extreme Islamic state is actually unchanged along with also they are still fighting because they see themselves as winning.
however they at This particular point face a brand-new challenge. inside areas they control, people at This particular point expect life-changing improvements like healthcare along with also electricity – a lasting legacy of the billions of dollars in which poured in with foreign forces to rebuild Afghanistan inside years after 9/11. How will the Taliban cope with in which shift?
The BBC team in Helmand province were Auliya Atrafi, Ali Hussaini along with also Attahullah Safi.