Thursday, December 2

Kandahar’s fall to the Taliban is a momentous moment | Taliban

In the sprawling compound of Mullah Omar, the first Taliban emir, outside the southern city of Kandahar, onlookers peeked from their rooms.

There was the small mosque within the walls, a camel stable damaged by an American rocket, and a series of bare rooms, some strewn with pages torn from a religious text, in one of which hung a bedroom with a picture of a scene. alpine. Nearby, armed men sat on a strange sculpture on a mountain surrounded by slender palm trees.

It was December 2001, a few days after the defeat of the Taliban after 9/11, and the group had fled the city that was once their capital. Mullah Omar himself was gone. And while there was little to learn about the character of the fled Taliban leader, Kandahar himself was revealing his secrets.

In houses behind walls in anonymous suburbs, the first reporters to arrive in the city discovered the jihadist training grounds that Mullah Omar housed, places where foreign students were taught bomb-making skills and developed plans for attacks in abroad, as evidenced by scorched notebooks on multiple pages. tongues found in a hastily lit bonfire.

Militiamen in the solarium used by the late Taliban leader Mullah Omar in his compound on the outskirts of Kandahar city after the fall of the Taliban in December 2001
Militiamen in the solarium used by Mullah Omar in his compound on the outskirts of Kandahar after the fall of the Taliban in December 2001. Photograph: Peter Beaumont / The Guardian

Passing down a street in the center of the city, a group of men watched from a roof, one wearing an old Soviet gas mask. Citizens of the city spoke of the brutal rule of the Taliban; executions by stoning and their own corruption, with many welcoming the group’s downfall.

Now Kandahar has taken a complete turn, falling to the Taliban on Thursday, with the group’s officials once again in charge of the city and already holding meetings in the governor’s office.

“Kandahar is completely conquered. The Mujahideen reached the Martyrs Square, ”a Taliban spokesperson tweeted, referring to the city’s landmark.

The significance of the Taliban’s reconquest of Kandahar after 20 years should not be underestimated in historical or strategic terms. Considered the capital of the Pashtun-speaking south, Kandahar has always exercised a special sense of gravity on the rest of the country, representing one of its major ethnic divisions.

What it underscores most powerfully is how the Taliban survived through the long years of the US-led intervention in order to return to where it began.

If the sight of US and British special forces outside Mullah Omar’s home seemed to mark the emirate’s downfall in 2001, the appearance of its fighters in Martyrs’ Square has reified its resurgence.

It was first formed in the early 1990s by members of the CIA-backed Afghan mujahideen, who had resisted the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan between 1979 and 1989, and attracted members of younger Pashtun tribes who studied at madrassas. Pakistanis in exile.

Anti-Taliban militia and statue.  Mullah Omar's compound near Kandahar,
Anti-Taliban militia and statue. Mullah Omar complex near Kandahar, December 1, 2002. Photograph: Peter Beaumont / The Guardian

The first iteration of the Taliban drew support by promising to end the violence of internal warlords that characterized the Soviet withdrawal.

In the mid-1990s, as now, the Taliban expanded their control of the country, using Kandahar as their first stronghold and benefiting from divisions among the warlords who opposed them.

If some things have changed in the past 20 years, including the Taliban’s new engagement with the world and the desire for international legitimacy, others have remained constant.

As Gilles Dorronsoro noted in a prescient article for the Carnegie Endowment for Peace in 2009, the Taliban’s winning strategy in Afghanistan remains “a revolutionary movement, deeply opposed to the Afghan tribal system and focused on rebuilding the Islamic Emirate.”

In some respects, the Taliban never left Kandahar. In the long interregnum, Kandahar remained connected with the exiled leadership of the Quetta shura across the border in Pakistan.

Even at the height of the US-led presence, when the sprawling air base on the outskirts of Kandahar, with its cinemas, gyms, and pizzerias, cast its shadow over the neighboring city, those of us who visited the city independently were informed. of the districts where the Taliban families of the fighters stayed while the men fought.

Beyond the city, in the mulberry groves along the Arghandab River, as an Afghan colleague once pointed out to the river told me, is where the Taliban started.

A man with his wife and a gas mask and stereo in Kandahar, four days after the Taliban fled the city, on December 1, 2002.
A man with his wife and a gas mask and stereo in Kandahar, four days after the Taliban fled the city, on December 1, 2002. Photograph: Peter Beaumont / The Guardian

It was almost most visible in the province’s countryside around the city, especially during the anti-Taliban surge a decade ago, when some fighters fled and others simply returned to village life and waited.

For now, the question from Kandahar residents is whether the return of the Taliban to the city will also mark a return to the old ways of the Taliban after reports of the killing of opponents in the city in the past two weeks. Or if the new era, however long this time lasts, represents some kind of departure.

On Friday, a resident of Kandahar, Abdul Nafi, told AFP that the city was calm after government forces withdrew early on Friday.

“I had a harrowing night while there were fights, but in the morning I was calm,” he said. “I went out this morning, I saw white flags of the Taliban in most of the city squares. I thought it might be the first day of [the religious festival] Eid “.

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