Notes from Afghanistan: Costly chicken and buzzing traffic in Jalalabad

Published August 24, 2021
DawnNews anchorperson Adil Shahzeb in Jalalabad, with an armoured vehicle carrying the Taliban flag in the background.
DawnNews anchorperson Adil Shahzeb in Jalalabad, with an armoured vehicle carrying the Taliban flag in the background.

This is part of a series of pieces based on reporting by Adil Shahzeb – DawnNews correspondent currently in Afghanistan in the aftermath of the Taliban takeover.

The noise of blaring horns pierces through the otherwise calm air. Shopkeepers attend to customers as labourers and pedestrians navigate speeding cars on roads on the way to their destinations. An endless stream of yellow rickshaws whizzes along in the background on this bright afternoon.

This scene of a teeming, bustling city is not just any South Asian metropolis. This is Jalalabad in Afghanistan.

It's hard to believe this country witnessed a regime change and political upheaval of colossal proportions just over a week ago.

A large signature white flag of the Taliban, who completed their lightning offensive of Afghanistan last Sunday by taking over Kabul and sending president Ashraf Ghani fleeing, flutters at the roundabout — known as Pakhtunistan Chowk.

Metres away is Nangarhar province's Governor House. It is now host to gun-wielding Taliban fighters, but outside its lofty compound walls, people seem to have other things on mind.

It is back to business as usual. Or so it appears, at least for now.

Also read: A big test for the Taliban

The entire journey from Islamabad to Jalalabad takes 10-11 hours, a big chunk of which is spent in completing immigration formalities and clearances on the Pakistani side of Torkham.

The presence of the Taliban, surprisingly, is not ubiquitous. We encounter five checkposts during the nearly two-hour ride between Torkham border and Jalalabad, and each was manned by a single Taliban fighter.

DawnNews anchorperson Adil Shahzeb reports from Jalalabad's Pakhtunistan Chowk.
DawnNews anchorperson Adil Shahzeb reports from Jalalabad's Pakhtunistan Chowk.

As we enter the city, we are even asked at the final checkpost whether we experienced any poor treatment on the road.

Many residents we speak to in Jalalabad say although the law and order situation is stable, people are anxious and concerned about their future amid the uncertain situation.

And while business appears to be underway as per routine in the markets of Jalalabad, the volatility of the past weeks and new border restrictions have had an impact on food prices.

Nawab Khan, who runs a small poultry shop, tells us chicken prices have risen by 20-30 Afghani since the Taliban assumed power.

At a naan shop, vendor Ghulam Rehman says the wheat flour bag they used to get for 1,600 Afghani is now being sold for 2,200 Afghani — a jump attributed to the uncertainty created by route closures due to the Taliban advance across the country.

For a Taliban fighter stationed in Jalalabad, however, the Afghan public have nothing to worry about.

While most people are happy since the regime change, "some elements are provoking the emotions of the people," he tells us, holding a rifle at the ready and with a walkie-talkie in the pocket of his vest.

He says Afghans are free to wave their national flag, which has been used as a symbol of resistance against the Taliban rule during scattered protests in the country in recent days, stressing that the people's "legitimate" demands will be met.

Pakistan's consulate is the only one that is currently functional in Jalalabad, while those of India and Iran are closed.

We sit down for a chat with Pakistani Consul General Abidullah Khan, who speaks of a "smooth" and "bloodless" transition of power in Jalalabad.

According to Khan, a jirga was formed comprising tribal elders — the area's power brokers — that went to Nangarhar's governor and conveyed to him through talks that the situation warranted that the power be transferred to the Taliban. The governor agreed, and handed over the reins without any fighting.

But as the Taliban consolidate their rule, many ordinary Afghans say they must deliver on the war-weary nation's expectations in order to win their confidence.

"The difference [since the Taliban takeover] is that the war has ended and peace has taken hold," Naik Mohammad, an elderly resident, says.

"The Taliban have seized the government and the system is in their hands. Bribery and corruption were endemic in the past; now the people want to be served, their problems solved."

As with all the promises the Taliban themselves have made so far, it is too early to say to what extent they will fulfil such public expectations.

But as of today, despite everything, life in Taliban's Afghanistan goes on.

Copy by Adeel Ahmed


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