The Taliban celebrated with shots into the air this Tuesday, the departure of the last US plane from Kabul airport. Militia troops immediately took control of the site, a final symbol of the US withdrawal after 20 years of presence in Afghanistan. “It is a historic day, a historic moment, we are very proud,” declared the spokesman for the new regime, Zabihullah Mujahid. With the pretext for their armed struggle removed, Islamic extremists now face the most trivial task: that of governing. However, the country’s numerous difficulties fill the future with uncertainty.
Mujahid took the opportunity to give a press conference at the airport itself. “Congratulations to Afghanistan. This victory belongs to everyone”, he stated, with evident satisfaction. “We are very proud of this moment, of having freed our country from a great power. (…) It’s a great lesson for other invaders and for our future generations, and also a lesson for the world,” he added.
Afghans’ feelings are more complex. The joy of one part coexists with the fear that the victory of the Islamic fundamentalist guerrillas caused among the urban and educated population. Tens of thousands of people have already left the country. Many others would like to do this. “The situation gets worse every day and we are afraid of being identified. It’s very dangerous,” confides a journalist who is hiding in Kabul with other activists who have not managed to get on evacuation flights from the United States and its allies. “We woke up with the gunshots and we were very scared”, he adds, referring to the dawn celebration.
Many Afghans, particularly young people, women and minorities, fear that the return of fundamentalists to power will nullify civil liberties and social advances over the past two decades. They recall that during their previous government, between 1996 and 2001, the Taliban imposed an extremely rigorous interpretation of Islamic law (Sharia). Based on this interpretation, women were confined to the home, without access to education or the right to work; the thieves’ hands were cut off; and adulterers were killed by stoning.
Since Aug. 15, when the Taliban entered Kabul with virtually no resistance, its leaders have sought to convey an image of restraint that provokes skepticism. His words and gestures of tolerance towards former government officials, women and minorities contrast with the news of how his troops act. News of summary executions of former security service officials, artists and other critical people alerted human rights organizations.
Support news production like this. Subscribe to EL PAÍS for 30 days for 1 US$
“They say the right things, but it’s too early to know their intentions,” says one analyst. The first test will be the formation of the Government, which the Taliban promises to be inclusive. In neighboring Pakistan, which maintains good historical ties with the Taliban, Chancellor Shah Mehmood Qureshi hopes that “a consensus government will be formed in the next few days” in Afghanistan, as he said Tuesday at a press conference in Islamabad.
The difficulty of distributing the folders in a way that satisfies all the sensibilities of the Taliban movement is less than the task ahead for future ministers. The new government will face the challenge of reviving a war-torn economy, which will not have the billions of dollars in foreign aid that its predecessors received, although some of that money has been swallowed up by corruption. The UN has warned of the risk of a humanitarian catastrophe in rural areas, where the situation is aggravated by the recent drought.
Aware of this, Mujahid reiterated on Tuesday that the new regime wants to “have good relations with the whole world, including the United States.” The Taliban spokesman also made an unusual call to international investors. “I invite you all to invest in Afghanistan,” he told the press.
For now, Western countries have opted to freeze their recognition, a key step for the Taliban regime to gain access to Afghan reserves abroad and international credits. They hope that the incentive to offer him legitimacy will serve to obtain commitments to respect human rights. At the moment, the West is seeking guarantees that Afghans who want to leave the country can do so safely, as well as for the protection of Afghan collaborators who could not be evacuated within the deadline stipulated by President Joe Biden for the withdrawal of American troops .
The Taliban didn’t even have to wait for the deadline to recover the airport. Twenty-four hours in advance, General Chris Dohahue, head of the 82nd Airborne Division, became the last American serviceman to leave Afghan soil, according to a photo taken with a night-vision camera and released by the Pentagon.
Videos the Taliban were quick to release show militiamen entering the airport, as well as a hangar full of material destroyed by American soldiers. The camera stops in front of two helicopters that could not be taken. The Pentagon soon reported that these helicopters are inoperative.
The United States entered Afghanistan in 2001 to oust the Taliban from power for having given shelter to Osama bin Laden, responsible for the September 11, 2001 attacks and head of al-Qaeda. They achieved the first objective, but Bin Laden ended up hiding in Pakistan, where he was killed by a commando ten years later. Although the military intervention had the support of the UN and forces from several allied countries, including Spain, it became, as of 2014, a mission to train the now dismantled Afghan Army.
sign up on here to receive the daily newsletter of EL PAÍS Brasil: reports, analyses, exclusive interviews and the main information of the day in your e-mail, from Monday to Friday. sign up also to receive our weekly newsletter on Saturdays, with highlights of coverage for the week.