A journey through Kabul on autumn day

By early afternoon, it was increasingly clear that the government had collapsed, that the president and his entourage had left. The sign...


By early afternoon, it was increasingly clear that the government had collapsed, that the president and his entourage had left. The signs were in the chorus of rumors, with people rushing to their homes, afraid to look back in the direction the Taliban had come from. The streets were emptying.

People were moving quickly, trying to find safety. By a strange coincidence, they walked through dismal commemorations by the side of the street on the eve of Ashura, which marks the day that the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad was martyred. There were gunshots, high speed vehicles, and even tanks roaming the streets – no one knew what belonged to whom. The Taliban later said the vacuum forced them to enter the capital, to avoid lawlessness, rather than wait for a more gradual transition.

Since then, Kabul has been a paradox that in many ways is reminiscent of the Taliban rule of the 1990s, however softer their public statements may be.

On the one hand, petty crime is on the decline, walking the streets is physically safer, and the Taliban tout the fact that beyond the airport, the victims of war – shortly after 50 to 100 people a day were killed – are now close to zero.

On the other hand, there are the scenes that grab the world. Young Afghans falling to death after hanging onto an American evacuation plane. Thousands of Afghan families have gathered in front of the airport, hoping for some sort of rescue in the last days of the Western withdrawal. The carnage of another suicide bombing, and a promise of chaos to come, even for the Taliban.

Many people, including those who are desperately trying to flee, feel a direct threat from the Taliban. But it is also about something bigger: it is about a people who abandon a country.

After 40 years of violence, and so many cycles of false hope and deceptive lulls, what grips the hearts of many Afghans is despair: the fear that this time will be no different, unless it is. worse.

Mujib Mashal is an international correspondent for the New York Times who covered Afghanistan from 2015-2020 and is now based in New Delhi. He is originally from Kabul.

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