The Second Rise of the Taliban
Farhan Hotak

As the Taliban capture Afghanistan at breakneck speed, locals are both fearful and cautiously optimistic.

A swift advance

Events have rocked Afghanistan over the past several days. The cities of Kandahar, Herat, Mazar and Kabul, the country’s major and largest cities respectively and once thought of as secure islands of government control, fell to the Taliban in a single week. On Sunday morning, the capital Kabul stood surrounded from all sides. By the evening the Taliban entered with ease while key figures, including now ex-President Ashraf Ghani, fled the country. Soon the Taliban had taken over the presidential palace, with live footage of the takeover streamed on international media. The nation’s citizens are in deep shock and worry with major changes expected in the coming days.

Kandahar city, Afghanistan’s first capital and the traditional seat of Pashtun power and culture, fell on Thursday. The three major government commanders in Kandahar, known locally as Sardar Khan, Asham Regwal and Kaaki, surrendered to the Taliban. The governor of Kandahar followed suit while Tadin, the police chief of the city, fled to India. The following day, Friday prayers and sermons at the many mosques dotted across the city were organised by the Taliban. This was particularly the case at Kandahar’s famous ‘Jama Omar’ (Omar Mosque), adjacent to the Shaheedanu Chawk (Martyrs’ Square) landmark. The mosque itself was built by the native Kandahari and Taliban founder and leader Mullah Muhammad Omar.

The sermon featured a lengthy talk, in which the khateeb (pulpit speaker) promised a better life for Kandaharis and all Afghans. The speech was notable for its lack of overt political talking points, emphasising in vague terms the new chapter and illustrious future that Afghanistan was to embark upon under the insurgent group, themselves as Kandahari as any of the locals. In particular, the khateeb was keen to focus on the corruption of President Ashraf Ghani’s government, to which he referred as the ‘corrupt administration’. He remarked that under the new Taliban-focused Afghanistan such blemishes and their inevitable side effects were to be relegated to the past.

The fabled city of Herat, long renowned for its historic role as a focal point of literature, art and religious study, was also captured by the Taliban on Thursday afternoon. The insurgents, now a government-in-making, seized the governor’s office while deploying fighters across the city. The capture was sudden and abrupt. Ismail Khan, known locally as the Amir of Herat, is a well-known figure: a former anti-Soviet commander and previous Governor of Herat. After offering brief resistance to the Taliban earlier in the month, he and the men loyal to him surrendered. As shown by Taliban social media channels, they were reportedly treated well.

Footage has also emerged showing that the Taliban have captured the citadel of Herat, known locally as Qala-e-Ikhtiyaruddin (Ikhtiyaruddin’s Citadel), as well as its famed Jama Masjid, or Blue Mosque. Here, too, the Taliban organised Friday prayers and sermons across the legendary city, promising the faithful a brighter future under their new government. The sermons insisted the insurgents were not the same movement that they were during their previous emirate in the late ‘90s. They maintained that with the times, they too have changed. Sources from the city report that normal life is expected to resume in the coming days. Residents will attend work as per usual, and girls will study, subject to their observing the Islamic hijab and being segregated from men.

The historical city of Balkh was also captured overnight and had white flags hung all around the famous blue mosque. Atta Mohammad Noor, now ex-Governor of Balkh, and ethnic Uzbek leader Abdul Rashid Dostum, both fled to Uzbekistan. Their armies, however, were left behind as Uzbekistan would not take them all in.

Forces in other provinces, such Zabul, Ghor, Ghazni, Badghis, Logar and Wardak, have largely surrendered in similarly swift fashion, over the course of just 12 hours. Meanwhile, in addition to Kabul, Khost, Jalalabad, Panjshir and Bamyan fell on Sunday. Khost, in the southeast, was under intense attack, and was taken by the Taliban in what appeared to be a major offensive.

Throughout the course of these events other major problems have inevitably occurred, including the cutting of electricity and telecommunications being switched off in several areas. Even bank ATMs have been closed down. It is yet to be determined whether the cutting of electricity and communications was government policy to limit the spread of information across the country as the insurgents advanced.

In search of peace

Residents in Kandahar are cautiously optimistic. Primarily, this is due to the relief that conflict and war seem to be becoming relics of the past. This is despite some disagreeing with the austere religiosity and strictness they expect to contend with under a new Taliban government. Ultimately, while far from ideal, many finding themselves put off by the excessive social conservatism now seem willing to sacrifice their previous lifestyles if it leads to a resounding calm, which has eluded the country for four decades.

The Taliban claim the city will not see major changes and affairs will progress as usual, with adjustments to make life more Islamic as they see it. This would include women needing to cover according to their version of an Islamic hijab; the hijab already by and large the manner of female dress in Afghan society. There is also potentially the need for women to be accompanied by a male chaperone from their immediate family.

Concerns about women’s rights notwithstanding, what is often sorely missed in the west are the intricacies of Afghan culture, the product of centuries of evolution of tribal or nomadic groups. These norms persisted even under government rule, with locals resistant to allowing their daughters to study, either due to security concerns or cultural reasons. The Taliban claim to be progressive through championing the values of Islam and not of Pashtun or Afghan culture. So far, the pursuit of education by girls has the Taliban’s blessing.

Meanwhile, Muharram celebrations held by Shia Muslims have also reportedly been permitted by the Taliban. Shia Muslims in Herat and Ghazni, cities under Taliban control, have been given approval to commemorate the festival by their new government. The Taliban have gone as far as publishing footage in Ghazni of the preparations by local Shias raising banners and selling merchandise for their holy day. In the clip the filmmaker, a Talib, asks the resident if the Taliban have interfered to which the man responds in the negative, asserting they are happy, safe and free of intimidation.

Those displaced from nearby Helmand and Nimroz are reported to have started making their way back to their respective homes, with their provinces too now apparently safe. Their homes and villages are now firmly under Taliban rule, with their white flags fluttering high.

Across southern Afghanistan, which has long suffered through the perpetual phases of war and Taliban insurgency, residents are relieved. The arrival of the Taliban, while abrupt, shocking and confusing to many, is also widely perceived as ushering a new phase of security, stability and a reduction in crime. Darkness at night, a long-time impediment to leaving one’s house or hut, is no longer synonymous with danger. Ultimately, for the common man, security trumps all.


Photo Credit: Canada in Afghanistan / Flickr
Farhan Hotak

Farhan Hotak


Farhan Hotak is an Afghan vlogger from Kandahar/Zabul on a mission to show Afghanistan in its most authentic form to the world. Join him on his journey as he travels across the country to discover its beauty, meet Afghans from different regions, and learn about his war-torn country. Farhan’s writing has appeared on Afghan Eye.

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