By early afternoon, it became increasingly clear that the government had collapsed and that the president and his aides had left. The symptom was a chorus of rumors that people were rushing home for fear of looking back in the direction the Taliban were alleged to have arrived. The street was empty.
People moved quickly trying to find safety. With a strange coincidence, they passed through a sad streetside memorial on the eve of Ashura, commemorating the day when the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad was martyred. There were gunshots, speed-violating cars, and even tanks roaming the streets — no one knew who belonged to whom. The Taliban later said the vacuum forced them to enter the capital to escape anarchy rather than waiting for a more gradual transition.
Since then, Kabul has been a paradox in many respects reminiscent of the Taliban’s 1990s domination, regardless of the milder tone of their official statement.
Meanwhile, trivial crimes have diminished, walking down the streets feels physically safe, and the Taliban crossed the airport, killing 50 to 100 war victims a day-now. Zero advertising the fact that he is nearby.
On the other hand, there are also scenes that capture the world. A young Afghan man died after clinging to an American evacuation plane. Thousands of Afghan families gathered outside the airport hoping for help on the last day of the western withdrawal. Another suicide bombing massacre, and even for the Taliban, a promise of turmoil to come.
Many, including those desperately trying to escape, feel a direct threat from the Taliban. But this is also a bigger thing. It’s about people who give up a country.
After 40 years of violence and many cycles of false hope and misleading calm, it is hopeless that many Afghans have been captivated.
Mujib Mashal is an international correspondent for the New York Times covering Afghanistan from 2015 to 2020 and is currently based in New Delhi. He is from Kabul.