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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

One month since Taliban takeover: Here’s everything that has happened in Afghanistan

Despite the US and NATO pouring of hundreds of billions of dollars to build up the Afghan security force, the Taliban seized nearly all of Afghanistan in just over a week.

By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: September 16, 2021 10:10:40 pm
A rifle lies on the ground as Taliban soldiers sit in an amusement park in Kabul, Afghanistan, September 13, 2021. (Reuters)

On August 15, the Taliban took over Kabul.

With the capital in their hands, the hardline Islamist militant group completed their takeover of Afghanistan  in a quick offensive that saw provinces and warlords give up without a fight.

The siege came two weeks prior to the date the United States had selected to complete its troop withdrawal, after a costly two-decade war. It has now been a month since the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan. Here’s everything that has happened in the country since then.

The fall of Kabul

Despite the US and NATO pouring of hundreds of billions of dollars to build up the Afghan security force, the Taliban seized nearly all of Afghanistan in just over a week.

On August 15, the insurgents entered the outskirts of Kabul but remained outside the city’s downtown. According to the Associated Press, workers at the time fled government offices, and smoke rose over the city as embassy staff were seen burning important documents.

Taliban Taliban fighters inside the Afghan presidential palace, in Kabul. (File/AP)

While the Taliban fighters remained on the outskirts, reports of Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani leaving the country added more panic.

Ghani later said in a statement said that he fled to prevent further bloodshed. “The Taliban have won with the judgement of their swords and guns, and are now responsible for the honour, property and self-preservation of their countrymen,” he wrote in a Facebook post.

Express Special |5 days, 4 nights in Kabul

In a few hours, Al Jazeera aired visuals of Taliban fighters entering Afghanistan’s presidential palace. The group’s leadership, surrounded by dozens of armed fighters, addressed the media from the country’s seat of power, signalling an official takeover.

Grim visuals from airport

As Taliban fighters moved around the corridors of the lush Presidential palace, thousands of Afghans desperate to leave the country thronged the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.

Fearful that the Taliban would reimpose the kind of brutal rule that all but eliminated women’s rights, several Afghans lined up at cash machines to withdraw their life savings.

Hundreds of people gather near a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport plane at a perimeter at the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021. (AP)

In visuals that stunned the world, many were seen clinging to a US military transport plane as it taxied on the runway. Another video on social media showed several falling through the air as the aeroplane rapidly gained altitude over the city. Seven Afghan civilians were killed in the chaos at the airport.

Though the Taliban had promised a peaceful transition, the US Embassy suspended operations and warned Americans late in the day to shelter in place and not try to get to the airport.

Some hundreds of people run alongside a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport plane as it moves down a runway of the international airport, in Kabul (AP)

Many people watched in disbelief as helicopters landed in the US Embassy compound to take diplomats to a new outpost at the airport. The United States rejected comparisons to the US pullout from Vietnam. In terms of international response, most countries said their primary focus was on evacuating their citizens who are stuck in war-torn countries.

On August 17, US President Joe Biden broke his silence and said that he stand by his decision to withdraw American troops. In a nearly 15-minutes long address, Biden said, “I am the President of the USA and the buck stops with me.”

US President Joe Biden (Left); A man pulls a girl to get inside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan August 16, 2021. (Reuters)

Two days later, a twin-suicide bomb attack outside the Kabul airport killed at least 95 Afghans and 13 US troops. The Islamic State group later claimed responsibility for the killings.

US-led foreign forces eventually evacuated about 1,24,000 foreigners and at-risk Afghans, but tens of thousands were left behind.

Anti-Taliban protests

While thousands of Afghans were trying to flee Taliban rule, videos emerged on social media of a small group of women holding placards and demanding equal rights on the streets of Kabul. This was reportedly the first agitation of its kind since the militant group seized control of the country.

A person wounded in a bomb blast outside the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan on Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021, arrives at a hospital in Kabul. (The New York Times)

More protests across the cities of Afghanistan also emerged on the occasion of the country’s Independence day. At one demonstration in the city, about 200 people gathered before the Taliban broke it up violently.

“It was a remarkable display of defiance…It was also further evidence that while tens of thousands are now seeking escape, there were many more left behind and determined to have a voice in the kind of country in which they live,” a New York Times report remarked on the protest.

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 September 7, 2021. (Reuters)

Meanwhile, away from Kabul in the Panjshir Valley, an anti-Taliban guerrilla movement began to form under the leadership of Ahmad Massoud, the son of Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was one of the main leaders of Afghanistan’s anti-Soviet resistance in the 1980s and was killed in 2001, at the behest of the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

The region, located 150 kilometers northeast of the capital, Kabul, hosted some senior members of the ousted government, including the deposed Vice President Amrullah Saleh and ex-Defense Minister Bismillah Mohammadi. Saleh has declared himself the caretaker president after ousted President Ashraf Ghani fled the country.

Militiamen loyal to Ahmad Massoud, son of the late Ahmad Shah Massoud, take part in a training exercise, in Panjshir province, northeastern Afghanistan. (AP)

“I will never, ever and under no circumstances bow to the Taliban terrorists. I will never betray the soul and legacy of my hero Ahmad Shah Mas[s]oud, the commander, the legend and the guide,” Saleh wrote on Twitter.

The Panjshir Valley has repeatedly played a decisive role in Afghanistan’s military history, as its geographical position almost completely closes it off from the rest of the country. However, the Taliban in recent days have claimed victory over Panjshir.

New Taliban govt

On September 7, the Taliban named Mullah Hasan Akhund, an associate of the movement’s late founder Mullah Omar, as the head of Afghanistan’s new government on Tuesday, with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, head of the movement’s political office, as deputy.

Sarajuddin Haqqani, son of the founder of the Haqqani network, designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, was appointed as the new interior minister.

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar (Left) and Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada.

In terms of structure, the new government in Kabul was similar to the one in Tehran in some ways. The top religious leader of the Taliban, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, was announced as Afghanistan’s supreme authority, even though he is not part of the government.

According to a statement released after the cabinet appointments, Akhundzada instructed the new government to uphold Islamic rules and Sharia law in Afghanistan. In the statement released in English, Akhundzada also urged those in charge to protect the country’s highest interests, and to ensure “lasting peace, prosperity and development”.

Photographs of classrooms divided by curtains were circulated widely on social media. (Reuters)

In terms of education, the all-male interim government announced a set of rules to be followed by female students. The women are expected to follow a strict dress code as accepted by the Taliban’s interpretation of Islam and wear a hijab while attending classes, segregated from the male students. The government has also advised that separate entrances be created for males and females.

Reports of violence against journalists have also emerged.

Economic woes

Ever since the takeover, the Taliban seems to face daunting problems as they seek to convert their lightning military victory into a durable peacetime government.

According to Reuters, even after decades of war and the deaths of tens of thousands of people, security has largely improved, but Afghanistan’s economy is in ruins despite hundreds of billions of dollars in development spending over the past 20 years.

Afghans line up outside a bank to take out their money after Taliban takeover in Kabul, Afghanistan on Sept. 1, 2021. (Reuters)

The Kabul airport, which witnessed chaotic scenes in August, is said to be up and running with assistance from Qatari officials. The first international commercial flight departed from Kabul airport last week.

However, much like in August, long lines are still seen outside banks, where weekly withdrawal limits of 20,000 afghanis (approx $200) have been imposed to protect the country’s dwindling reserves.

Impromptu markets where people sell household goods for cash are reported to have sprung up across the capital. However, buyers still remain in short supply. “Thefts have disappeared. But bread has also disappeared,” one shopkeeper told Reuters.

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