Prior to the Taliban’s final victory in the Afghan war, the highways connecting Kabul to the north and south had become a cesspool of dacoits, robbers, local militias and unruly Taliban fighters, who made travelling near impossible.
ACCEPTANCE– With domestic flights abruptly halted, many Afghans are now travelling by road as the Taliban are trying to improve the security scenario of the country’s sensitive areas, especially its major inter-city roadways.
Less than a month ago, taking highways for inter-province travel was a difficult choice to make as the Taliban and local militias would do random checks along the northern highway. Along this road, it had become a norm to hear the news of abductions of military personnel and passengers with alleged ties to the government or the US and NATO.
Abdurahim Ghafari, who regularly travels between Kabul and northern Kunduz province, told TRT World that prior to the Taliban winning the Afghan war, people were always hesitant to take the highways especially while travelling to the country’s northern and southern parts.
From August 15 onward, when the Taliban entered Kabul, taking the charge as a new ruling force of the country, the fear of travelling via major highways dissipated and a large number of motor vehicles were seen passing through them.
“That fear is no more”, 30-year-old Ghaffari said. “The Taliban are everywhere”.
Ghafari’s family fled the city on the eve of Kunduz’ fall to the Taliban. They are now back in Kunduz as the situation is relatively calm. There are no signs of major violence showing in the region.
Mugged and robbed
People used to hide their ID cards, money and other valuable belongings while travelling by inter-city highways. The national ID or Tazkira could put someone’s life in danger as the Taliban did not recognise the US-backed government in Kabul. Some would put their money and documents in their socks, others would give money to their female companions, who would hide it inside their robes.
Despite the general feeling of security hanging in the air and supported by the Taliban’s soft image building, a number of politicians, government and military officials, journalists and activists say they are feeling unsafe.
Although daytime travelling has largely become safe, venturing out in the night along the highways is still risky.
The threat of theft on the highway to the north, connecting Kabul with Kunduz and Mazar, continues to be high after sundown. To avoid the chances of being mugged and robbed, private vehicles are only seen until the day ends.
Abdulwahid Karimi is a university lecturer in Takhar province. A day before Takhar’s surrender to the Taliban, he took his old car, packed a few bags and came to Kabul with his family of eight. He just returned to Takhar as Kabul was too expensive for him and his family to survive. On his way back to his hometown, he appeared confident that the situation has improved in the past few weeks.
“The highway is clear now. People can travel with their families at any time of the day,” he said.
Mohammad Ibrahim, a scholarship student in neighbouring Uzbekistan, travelled from Kabul to Mazar by road for the first time. “My family did not allow me to travel by road before because of the security concerns on the northern highway. I came for my holidays a few days before the fall of Mazar to the Taliban. I decided to go back. Before I left Kabul, the Taliban captured the city and flights were cancelled immediately.”
Ibrahim and his six college friends now have to travel by road to Mazar from where they will go to Uzbekistan through the Hairatan crossing point.
They seemed worried but the ticket seller assured them that they will reach their respective destinations safely.
There were few families on the bus that Ibrahim and his friends took to Mazar and some young boys were wearing western outfits — pants and shirts. The bus departed from Kabul at around 7:00 o’clock on the evening of August 28. It is scheduled to reach Mazar in 7-8 hours after passing through Parwan, Baghlan and Samangan provinces.
In a follow-up call with Ibrahim the next day, he told TRT World that the Taliban stopped their bus only at Kabul gate and Mazar gate. “In between, I did not see any check posts. There were several abandoned check posts in between with Taliban’s flags on it.”
At Kabul gate, the Taliban even asked passengers about the bus fare and if the drivers were overcharging. No one complained.
The enemy among the believers
Gul Ahmad, who travelled by road to the southern Kandahar province after the Taliban’s takeover, said, “The only thing we were worried about this time was the damaged road.”
Lately, the Taliban shared a video on social media as part of their PR campaign showing construction machinery restarting construction of the Kabul-Kandahar highway road.
Kabul-Kandahar-Herat highway to the south and west was also one of the dangerous routes many Afghans detested to take for personal and business purposes. Frequent Taliban check posts and armed robberies endangered many people’s lives and belongings. “Thanks to God, everything is good now. There is no threat to anyone”, Gul said.
Previously, apart from the Taliban and thieves, local militias also often blocked the road and even asked drivers for money. “There are only Taliban now. On the way, they entered the bus and checked our bags,” Gul recalled.
It has been a year and a half since the Taliban announced that they are responsible for the security of the south highway, and since then, there have not been major incidents on the way except for car accidents. “Crimes and robbery on the highway, and in general, are reduced significantly during the first days of Taliban’s rule”, he added.
Gul and his family left to stay with his parents in Kandahar as he lost his job in Kabul after the fall of the Afghan government.
Though the streets are quiet across the country, Daesh’s threat remains in Kabul and other major cities. Last week’s twin explosions at Kabul airport, claimed by Daesh’s Khorasan wing, killed over 70 Afghans and wounded more than 150 others. They all were desperately waiting to be airlifted out of the country.
The suicide bombing was a chilling reminder that there is a hidden enemy in the society, who has been accused of committing violent crimes against humanity.
Source: TRT World