The streets that used to be bustling with life have become silent. Very few women dare to leave their homes. Fighters patrol the neighborhoods.
Welcome to New Kabul, a city ruled by the Taliban.
“It’s like a zombie doomsday,” a 20-year-old women’s rights activist told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Around Kabul Airport, chaos reigns as thousands of people are anxious to flee before the August 31 deadline to leave the United States.
But everywhere, there is a terrible silence in the streets.
“People almost don’t go out and (when they do) they’re in a rush,” says the worker. “People get home as soon as possible.”
Under the ousted government, a growing number of women were to adopt Western clothing, study at university and work.
Now even in Kabul, women find it difficult to get out of the house. Sales of burqas have increased.
Many Afghans fear repeating the brutal interpretation of Islamic law that the Taliban first brought to power in 1996-2001.
This time, the Taliban is committed to a softer and more inclusive government and has assured women of their rights.
However, the activist says she has not been able to return to the university since the Taliban’s spectacular military victory on August 15th.
She says hardline women do not want to attend classes unless they can classify them according to gender.
“I think it’s a stupid decision,” she says.
The bank she works for has also stopped her from returning, citing her safety concerns.
Advertising posters featuring female models on city walls have either been defamed or torn down.
Pop music, which was completely banned during the previous Taliban regime, can no longer be heard in Kabul.
Only the sound of children playing – perhaps unaware of the depth of change in their homeland – breaks the silence.
A Kabul banker says widespread fear is working for the Taliban because they want to establish their dominance.
“They have no army to control the people but fear is controlling everyone,” he said on condition of anonymity.
Although the Taliban leadership seeks to portray an organized movement capable of governing, the reality on the ground is that the attitude of the militants varies from place to place.
“Some groups are doing good, but some of them go to restaurants without pay,” says the banker.
In the southeastern city of Khost, a long-conservative city that was captured shortly before the Taliban took over, militants have taken a softer line.
“After a few days, the situation has returned to normal. The flow of the city has slowed down but many shops and small businesses have now reopened,” a local aid worker told AFP.
“Boys and girls go to school like before,” he says.
“The Taliban’s attitude towards the people is much softer than people think,” he added.
However, some residents fear economic hardship, especially with the suspension of government services.
“A lot of people have lost their jobs, they’re scared of the bad economic situation,” he says.
In the northern city of Kunduz’s bazaar, Taliban militants use loudspeakers to announce their new rules to residents.
From weeks of fighting to the devastated Taliban victory, the city is now seeing some reconstruction – although progress has been slow.
“People started rebuilding their shops but not home because people ran away and didn’t come back, or they don’t have the money to rebuild,” a local business owner told AFP.
He says some poor people are so frightened by the effects of the change of government that they have stopped buying fruit and using soap.
“They think they should be saved because there is no way to make money in the future.”
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