Casey Gannon | Associated Press
Kabul, Afghanistan-It was November 13, 2001. When the Taliban disappeared from Kabul, the devastated capital of Afghanistan, the sun had just begun to rise over the Hindu Kush Mountains.
The bodies of the foreign Arabs who remained were mutilated and shed blood. They were discovered and killed by another faction of Afghans, who were brought to the city by a fierce campaign led by the United States to oust the Taliban.
Two months ago, the United States was still in shock from a terrible terrorist attack, when an aircraft piloted by al-Qaeda terrorists crashed into three landmark buildings and an oil field in Pennsylvania, killing nearly 3,000 people.
The perpetrators and their leader Osama bin Laden were sheltered by the Taliban somewhere in Afghanistan.
Task: find him. Bring him to justice.
At that time, Afghanistan—with twenty years of chaos behind it, and twenty years before it—was suspended in the middle. The last few pages of this book have been filled with so much heartbreak, but for the first time in a while, some blank pages full of potential are in sight. Nothing is certain, but there seem to be many possibilities.
In this context, the Afghans understand that the mission of fighting bin Laden means having the opportunity to secure their future—a future that was as gloomy that day and today. In the years after 2001, they believed in the power of “foreigners”.
From hundreds of years ago to the chaos after the U.S. withdrawal from the air base and the capital in recent days, the word “foreigner” means many things in the context of Afghanistan, from invaders to potential colonists.
But in November 2001, in an almost destroyed Afghan capital, rutted roads were full of bicycles and dilapidated yellow taxis, which meant hope.
Relief after the Taliban escaped
Torek Farhadi, along with many educated and trained Afghan expats, returned home in 2002 after the Taliban left. He wants to be part of the new Afghanistan promised by the US-led invasion.
“I found people breathed a sigh of relief, energized, and started again,” the economist said from his Geneva home as he watched the Taliban regain power last month. He still remembers the “smart young women” he met, who lost most of their education due to the Taliban’s repression between 1996 and 2001.
A few weeks after the September 11 attacks, the arrival of the United States-led coalition ended a repressive, religiously radical regime that had more in common with the 6th century than the 21st century.
The reclusive one-eyed Taliban leader Mullah Mohamed Omar brought the village to the city. The strict laws he taught in a mud school or religious school in one room became law. Girls were denied education. Women are confined in their own homes, or in public, confined to the all-encompassing burqa. The man was told to grow a beard. Television is banned, and all music except religious hymns is also banned.
When the Taliban fled and the new post-9/11 leader Hamid Karzai entered the huge presidential palace, he found that the Taliban had left their mark. The grand piano was destroyed; only the elegant shell remained. The interior has been removed-it seems to be because of concerns that you might accidentally press the piano keys and make music.
The hand-painted miniature murals all over the walls have been defaced; the Taliban believe that the images of living creatures are crimes against Islam. They walked up to each bird and used a black marker to erase its face.
In the first few years, George W. Bush’s Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld vowed that there would be no nation-building. The governance of the country was given to Washington’s Afghan allies, many of whom destroyed Kabul in hatred during their last reign. Under their corruption, the country was reduced to a series of fiefdoms, enriching the local warlords and leading to the rise of the Taliban.
The majority of ethnic Pashtuns who make up the backbone of the state were suddenly deprived of their citizenship rights. In 2002, the deputy police chief of Zabul, a southern province that was once a Taliban stronghold, sent 2,000 Pashtun youths to Kabul to join the Afghan National Army. They were teased and ridiculed; the deputy chief said that all but four had joined the Taliban.
A huge poster of the anti-Taliban fighter Ahmed Shah Masood who was killed by the Tajik warlord who was assassinated on September 9, 2001 is pasted inside the official vehicle and the Ministry of Defense. The first Minister of Defense, Mohamed Fahim, was a lieutenant of Masood, who deepened the differences by institutionalizing racial discrimination.
The Afghan army will collapse in 2021 as the Taliban progress, and its recruits are often more loyal to the warlord than the army itself. For newcomers who are generally uneducated, the training time is only eight weeks. The establishment of the Afghan army is often compared to repairing aircraft during the flight.
So throughout Afghanistan, quickly and understandably, it began: the defeated Taliban began to reappear. And the situation is getting worse.
By 2012, just two years before the United States and NATO handed over the end of the war to the Afghan government, the Afghan army was almost incapable and there were soldiers everywhere. They felt that the treatment of foreign trainers was poor and was angry about it. Soldiers wore boots with holes because corrupt officials paid millions of dollars for substandard contractors to provide substandard equipment. At an army outpost in the deadly east, helmets are very scarce, and five soldiers wear one in turn.
And American coaches? They no longer participate in training courses on the use of live ammunition.
They fear that weapons may attack them.
Fear of the return of the Taliban
Last month, the return of the Taliban with a long beard and flowing traditional headscarf caused widespread fear among young people in Afghan cities-where urban girls wearing headscarves were free to spend time in coffee shops and Dealing on the street. Young people dressed in Western clothing and dreaming of greater freedom became part of the chaos at the airport welcoming the start of the evacuation flight.
Afghanistan is a country with a population of 36 million, with conservatives everywhere, many of whom live in the countryside. But even they did not abide by the strict interpretation of Islam imposed by the Taliban during the last rule.
Taliban leaders, many of them related to the previous regime, including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the co-founder of the movement, promised to establish a different Taliban this time. Many people who were once shy and secluded by the camera often appear on the diplomatic stage. They say that women can work, go to school, and participate in public life.
Who believes them is another matter entirely. The new generation is full of nervous young people who grew up in nightmarish stories.
Some older Afghans worried that the already sluggish economy would only get worse, and they noticed that the last time the Taliban ruled was marked by strong security. Under the rule of the Taliban, justice was swift and severe. The convicted thief had his hands chopped off. The murderer was publicly executed. Punishments and trials were conducted publicly in a stadium crowded with thousands of people-the barbaric scenes can still cause fear.
The hallmark of Taliban rule is not attacks on women, but relentless repression, depriving them of public space. Although they are ordered to be accompanied by men, women often travel alone. But the traditional full-face burqa, an ancient dress that can be seen with only a piece of tulle, symbolizes the repression of the Taliban.
Although the world is watching with shock the rapid demise of the Afghan army and government in the past few weeks, the signs of Afghanistan’s post-9/11 decline are already obvious.
According to data from the Georgetown Institute for Women’s Peace and Security, in the 20 years after 9/11 and billions of dollars in investment, Afghanistan is considered to be one of the worst places in the world for women in 2020 and 2019. In 2018, in a Gallup poll, a ratio of 1 to 10 was used to determine how respondents judged their chances for a better future in the next five years. Afghans scored an average of 2.3. Gallup called it “a new low for any country in any year.”
Two-thirds of the respondents were 35 years old or younger-these very young Afghans are anxiously wondering what will happen next this month.
Thieves and warlords
When Afghans still believe that seeking peace will make a difference, there is the so-called High Peace Council. A few years ago, one of its members wanted to know how the American and NATO armies — 150,000 at their peak and fighting side by side with hundreds of thousands of Afghan troops — could not defeat the tens of thousands of Taliban.
“Either they don’t want to, or they can’t,” Mohammed Ismail Qasimyar said. “They created hell for us, not heaven.”
In the first few years after 9/11, American money arrived in Kabul in a suitcase. There was no working bank at the time—and no monitoring of the billions of dollars that flowed into the country. Most of them were through the hands of warlords allied with the United States, whose corruption led to the rise of the Taliban in the 1990s.
American generals are often used by their Afghan allies to retaliate. Mohabullah, an Afghan who left the Taliban and returned to the central province of Ghazni, once said with a smile how easy it is for Americans to be fooled by their Afghan partners. He recalled how a gas station owner joined the U.S. military as a Taliban-to resolve the discord.
In the first few months and years of relying solely on the warlord’s allies, the U.S. military often unknowingly fell into this kind of local competition. In 2002, a U.S. general had to rely entirely on the former warlord to obtain information about the well-known figures of Al-Qaeda in action.
For those who have been following Afghanistan for years, the scene where most young people were hanged on a plane that took off at Kabul Airport last month seems to be an indictment of two decades of hard work and billions of dollars in expenditure. For many of these people, the despair of leaving is not so much a fear of their lives as a search for a new life.
Moreover, some Afghans say this is not surprising.
“Thieves and warlords have found their way in the corridors of power. They are rich, they become dirty, and take the entire governance system hostage to their interests,” said economist Fahadi. “People have lost confidence,” he said. “Even the soldiers did not fight for their corrupt leadership.”
Nonetheless, Fahadi, a former IMF adviser and former World Bank economist, stated that he will return to his home country under Taliban rule-to help them find a way to operate in the 21st century.
Compared with Afghanistan in the 9/11 era, such a big change has taken place. Bin Laden is dead and was killed by the US military in Pakistan in 2011. Kabul is a city where many Taliban have returned and no longer know it. The impact of the past few weeks will be related to the US government for some time. Pinning the hopes of November 2001 on Afghanistan’s history and heartbreak, Fahadi provided advice to the country’s past and newest rulers.
“Pay close attention to corruption. Create a level playing field for corruption-free businesses. Let women join the workforce; it will help families increase their finances. Call on the diaspora to come back and invest and help build the country. Avoid isolating the country. In the end, it will pay the price for sanctions. It’s the people.”
The Associated Press Pakistan and Afghanistan News Director Kathy Gannon (Kathy Gannon) has been covering the country for three decades, including the prophase and aftermath of 9/11.