Taliban have their work cut out to win hearts and minds in Kabul

FILE PHOTO: A member of the Taliban forces points his gun at protesters, as Afghan demonstrators shout slogans during an anti-Pakistan protest, near the Pakistan embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan
FILE PHOTO: A member of Taliban forces points his gun at protesters as Afghan protesters raise slogans during an anti-Pakistan demonstration near the Pakistan Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.
FILE PHOTO: A member of Taliban forces points his gun at protesters as Afghan protesters raise slogans during an anti-Pakistan demonstration, near the Pakistan Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan September 7, 2021. Reuters/Stringer/File photo

September 10, 2021

(Reuters) – After 20 years of fighting, the Taliban have tried to present a reconciliation face to the world. Closer to home for Afghanistan’s new rulers is a problem: winning the hearts and minds of their own people, starting with the capital.

Since the group entered Kabul on 15 August, armed members have roamed the streets in battlefield attire, often without any explicit orders. Many townspeople are not used to seeing, and the heavy security tactic used has not helped.

Ahmed, a Kabul teacher who was a young child when the Taliban last ruled Afghanistan 20 years ago, is shocked to see his fighters on the streets. But weeks after the city’s fall, he feels there is no harmony in his presence.

“People in Kabul hate them,” he said, a townspeople with a distaste for uncivilized fighters who have descended from the countryside. Ahmed refused to give his surname for fear of reprisal.

“You must look at them, they are wild looking, dirty, uneducated people with long hair and dirty clothes. They have absolutely no manners.”

After 20 years of Western presence, Kabul is no longer the bombing shell that the Taliban captured in 1996.

Although it remains dirty and traffic-busy, with overflowing drains, poor electricity and running water in many areas, its vibrant urban culture is far removed from the harsh rural background of most Taliban fighters.

A fan of the Barcelona football team, a fan of Bollywood, Ahmed reluctantly let his beard grow out and exchanged the western-style clothing he wore for the traditional Perhan Tunban, when he was trying to avoid standing outside at a Taliban checkpoint. used to.

Rather than Dari, a language mainly spoken in Kabul, he is careful to address any Taliban he meets in Pashto, the language of the south and east from which most of the fighters come.

“They’ve never lived in a city and many of them don’t speak Dari – plus Pashto you hear Arabic or Urdu and other languages,” he said. “They beat up people in the street with their weapons. People are very afraid of him.”

Assurance

Taliban leaders say they want residents of Kabul to feel safe, but admit they were surprised by the rapid collapse of the Western-backed government, which has no plans to run the city of more than 5 million people. There was no time left.

They also acknowledge that their fighters, most of whom know little about the war years, are not police trained to deal with the public.

The group says its government is separate from the radical Islamist administration that ruled from 1996 to 2001, and promised there would be no arbitrary punishment and ordered patrols to treat people with respect.

“If there’s a problem in an area, whether it’s thieves or harassers or gunmen or tyrants, let people know that we’ve shared our contact numbers everywhere,” said Taliban patrol commander in Kabul, Syed Rehman Hydari. Police District 6.

“When facing such issues just let us know; We will follow seriously and arrest the culprits.”

When they were last in power, Taliban religious police beat people who broke the rules, and the group became internationally infamous for their public dissections and executions.

This time several street protests were broken up by gunmen firing warning shots in the air. People have been detained and beaten with rifle butts and rods and pipes.

Taliban leaders have vowed to investigate any incidents of abuse, but have ordered protesters to seek permission before holding protests.

For some Afghans, a reputation for swift and harsh justice has provided reassurance in a city that, along with regular Taliban suicide attacks, has seen an increase in kidnappings, murders and violent robberies in recent years.

“I can see that the security situation has changed since the Islamic Emirate government came to power,” said driver Abdul Sattar, who drove passengers around the Darul Aman Square area.

“Earlier there were a lot of mobile phone thieves in the area, but now that has come down.”

With no corrupt local police vying for bribes, he said he was able to reduce the price of 10 afghanis per passenger from the earlier 20-30.

Beating

However, the demonstrations in Kabul and the sometimes violent response by the Taliban to protesters and journalists covering them have undermined confidence in the group’s promises to treat the public with respect.

“Obviously when children and women see him, they will be afraid of him, because his previous government was terrible,” said Kabul resident Rahmatullah Khan.

The new government https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/who-are-key-figures-new-taliban-government-2021-09-07, composed primarily of southern and eastern ethnic Pashtun men Those who joined the Taliban in the 1990s also undermined hopes of an inclusive administration reflecting the concerns of those who grew up in the post-2001 era.

While Afghan society is deeply conservative with regard to women’s rights even outside the ranks of the Taliban, women’s protests in Kabul and other cities have underscored how determined some are to preserve the gains of the past 20 years.

On Wednesday, women in Kabul carrying signs that read “A cabinet without women is a failure” underscored Taliban’s doubts over the value of women in society and assurances of respect for their cause.

Taliban commander Haidari said that there should be no fear in the hearts of the people. We are at his service day and night.”

This is a message that some people are unwilling to believe.

22-year-old Ayesha, who worked for a media group before Kabul fell, said she had women beaten up by the Taliban several times and left her home only when absolutely necessary.

“These are very dangerous people, they will beat and insult women. I don’t care what their leaders say, they are completely wild.”

(Reporting by Reuters Bureau; Writing by James Mackenz; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

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