KABUL: Taliban fighters ride on a humvee chanting victory slogans to mark the first anniversary of their return to power, near the site of the US embassy on Monday.—AFP
KABUL: Taliban fighters ride on a humvee chanting victory slogans to mark the first anniversary of their return to power, near the site of the US embassy on Monday.—AFP

KABUL: As the jubilant Taliban celebrated on Monday to mark the first anniversary of their return to power in Afghanistan, despondent Afghans, whose hardships have multiplied since the takeover say that life has lost its meaning.

The Taliban fighters celebrated by chanting victory slogans next to the US embassy that suspended its operations last year. The Taliban captured Kabul exactly a year ago, after a nationwide lightning offensive against government forces just as US-led troops were ending two decades of intervention in a conflict that cost tens of thousands of lives.

“This great victory came after countless sacrifices and hardships,” Abdul Ghani Baradar, deputy prime minister and co-founder of the Taliban movement, said on Twitter.

“On this day... the Islamic Emirate brought the world’s superpower and its allies to their knees and Afghans gained their independence,” added Baradar.

The last American troops left on Aug 31, ending a chaotic evacuation of tens of thousands of Afghans who had rushed to Kabul’s airport in the hope of boarding a flight out of the country.

Images of crowds storming the airport, climbing atop aircraft — and some clinging to a departing US military cargo plane as it rolled down the runway — aired on news bulletins around the world.

“We fulfilled the obligation of jihad and liberated our country,” said Niamatullah Hekmat, a fighter who entered the capital on Aug 15 last year just hours after then-president Ashraf Ghani fled the country.

Many Taliban fighters gathered in Kabul’s central Massoud Square, where they displayed the regime’s white banners and performed a traditional victory dance, some holding weapons and others taking pictures on their mobile phones. “We all are happy that we are celebrating our independence in front of the US embassy,” fighter Aminullah Sufi Omar told AFP.

However, for many ordinary Afghans — particularly women — the return of the Taliban has only increased hardships, with aid agencies saying that half the country’s 38 million people face extreme poverty.

Initially, the Taliban promised a softer version of the harsh Islamist rule that characterised their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001. But since the takeover, many restrictions have been imposed on women. “Since the day they have come, life has lost its meaning,” said Ogai Amail, a resident of Kabul.

“Everything has been snatched from us, they have even entered our personal space,” she added.

Taliban fighters on Saturday dispersed a rare women’s rights rally by firing gunshots into the air and beating some protesters.

“Our call for justice was silenced with gunfire, but today we are pleading from inside our home,” Munisa Mubariz said on Monday.

She was among about 30 women who gathered at an undisclosed location to stage an indoor protest.

The women, who mostly had their faces uncovered, posted photographs online of themselves holding banners, including one that read: “Afghanistan’s history is tarnished with the closure of girls’ schools.”

While Afghans acknowledge a decline in violence since the Taliban seized power the humanitarian crisis has left many helpless.

“People coming to our shops are complaining so much of high prices that we shopkeepers have started hating ourselves,” said Noor Mohammad, a shopkeeper from Kandahar.

The country is in an economic crisis, with its overseas assets frozen by Washington and aid curtailed in order to keep funds out of the Taliban’s hands.

For Taliban fighters, the joy of victory overshadows the current economic crisis.

“We might be poor, we might be facing hardships, but the white flag of Islam will now fly high forever in Afghanistan”, said a fighter guarding a public park in Kabul.

Published in Dawn, August 16th, 2022

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