by Shafiq Ahmad
While trade has increased on borders since the Taliban takeover, intense security checks show normalcy is still far away
Two days after the last US soldier left Afghanistan after 20-years of military operations, an eerie calm has descended in the streets of capital Kabul.
Many believe that double suicide bombing at the airport followed by US drone strikes against ISIS-K hideouts has shown that peace in the war-torn country may still be far away.
While crisscrossing the 230 kilometres (142 miles) road from Torkham – a major border crossing with Pakistan – to Kabul, a tense atmosphere was palpable in small towns and villages. At the border crossing, just a few heavily armed Taliban guards were staffing the security checkpoint.
Some of them looked like the US and Afghan army soldiers as they had donned battle dresses left behind by withdrawing forces but could not hide their identity as they were still sporting slippers in their shoes – a trademark of Taliban fighters, who hardly wear army tactical footwear.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, a cross-section of people said that so far Taliban have not caused any problems for them.
“If they are unable to solve problems in an orderly manner, at least they are not putting unnecessary hurdles,” said Sams ur Rehman, who accused previous government officials covering the customs office of fleecing people, demanding bribes, and causing problems for goods trucks and ordinary Afghans.
According to officials on the Pakistani side of the border, the volume of imports and exports has increased since the Taliban took control of the border.
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The end of Corruption
Jalal Shinwari, a Pakistani transporter, alleged that the previous Afghan authorities used to take three to four times more money than the actual taxes as a bribe. Similarly, the customs office used to demand money for fruits and vegetables imported from Afghanistan.
The cascading effect of the absence of bribes is that fruit prices have decreased in the nearby Pakistani city of Peshawar, he claimed.
The exports of fruits from Afghanistan to Pakistan may have increased over the past fortnight, but the India-bound trade has almost dried up.
A local Taliban security guard said they are stopping and checking antecedents of journalists for their safety.
At the Pakistani side of the immigration counter, few European women journalists wearing baggy trousers, loose shirts, and supporting head-to-toe blue veil were also preparing to enter into Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
They were told that the Taliban do not check women supporting veil at the check posts.
And it turned true that Taliban guards spared them while stopped and scrutinized documents of other journalists.
“This security check is for their safety because ISIS-K is still present in Nangarhar province and can harm any foreigner to discredit the Taliban,” said Qari Izharullah, leader of Taliban security guards.
During the process, they offered food to waiting journalists and asked Muslim journalists that they can take a break to offer afternoon prayers till their papers are ready.
A Mix of Hospitality and Interrogation
After crossing this checkpoint, awaiting vehicle took all journalists to Jalalabad to meet the Taliban leader known as Doctor Bashir, who heads Amniyat or Security Department in the border city. On a cup of Afghani green tea, he again questioned and checked the credentials of journalists.
The mix of hospitality and interrogation was confusing, as some of the journalists started murmuring that they have been held captive. But Taliban leaders used the same premise that ISIS-K has created a difficult situation and they cannot take any chance.
“Daesh might cause problems for foreigners and kidnap them, which can bring the disrepute to the country,” he said.
Before permitting the journalists to leave for Kabul, Commander Bashir instructed to approach the office of Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid in the capital ahead of resuming their professional work of reporting.
A few journalists were not allowed to leave the Jalalabad office, as Bashir said he was awaiting their clearance from Kabul.
He said the new administration will now make it mandatory for all journalists visiting Afghanistan to take prior permission from the new administration so that the Taliban ensure their safety and security.
Women Images Intact in Neighbourhoods
While visiting different parts of Kabul, the reporter saw walls with women’s images have been sprayed with paints.
Locals, however, said the Taliban have so far neither issued any instructions nor ordered them to hide these pictures. But in anticipation that new rulers may not like them, they covered these images exhibited in various businesses, roadside signboards, and on the walls.
But in other parts of Kabul like upscale Wazir Akbar Khan and Shahre Nau neighbourhoods, as well as on the main route leading to the Hamid Karzai International Airport, the pictures depicting women were still hanging the walls and nobody has touched them.
The life-size images of leaders of the previous Ashraf Ghani government are, however, seen torn at various places, implying that new rulers and system has taken over Afghanistan, which has been battling for peace for over the past 43-years since the Saur Revolution of 1978.
(An Anadolu Agency news feature)