Under the rule of the Taliban, Saima Sherzad, a 32-year-old female doctor, is pursuing her dream job.
Growing up in the Khost province, the sparse region from where the armed group staged daring attacks on the US coalition forces, she had always wanted to be a health practitioner – to be able to wear the white coat, a stethoscope around her neck , and go from patient to patient to check on them.
But tending to the sick is one thing and putting food on the table is another. Prayers of those she treats at a government-run hospital and her own clinic go just so far in these difficult times.
“Most of my patients don’t have any money. They can not pay for hospital expenses and they cannot afford the medicines. We don’t even have enough machines and supplies to perform surgical operations,” Sherzad said.
“We have been forced to delay even urgent operations.”
August 15 marks a year since the Taliban members clutching their AK-47s, wearing combat gear that they had snatched from the Americans, rolled into Kabul on Toyota pickup trucks.
Since then, a specter of chaos, uncertainty, and more misery has hung over ordinary citizens in Afghanistan, which remained at the centre of international diplomacy for 20 years after the US invasion in late 2001.
The beaten down, fragmented and ill-equipped Taliban fought relentlessly. Ultimately, their resistance and the American public’s weariness with war forced Washington to sign a peace deal with the group.
A western-backed government, which ruled from Kabul, was too weak and corrupt to withstand the Taliban onslaught.
The world watched as the Taliban took over. And then the Afghans watched the world as it looked the other way.
TRT World spoke to average Afghans from different walks of life to understand their aspiration and fear a year after the Taliban came to power.
Better go hungry than die…but for how long?
Life in the Khost province must have awakened a strong realisation in Sherzad about the importance of going to bed knowing that you’d wake up alive in the morning.
The southeastern province was the stronghold of the dreaded Haqqani Network, a subgroup of the Taliban, known for carrying out audacious attacks on US-led coalition troops.
Roadside bomb blasts, armed checkpoints, kidnappings, and ambushes were order of the day here a few years back.
“For one thing, security has improved. People can travel from one place to another without worrying too much about their safety. But is that enough? There are no jobs…nothing much to work for,” says Sherzad.
Afghanistan didn’t have much of an economy to rely upon even before the US troops landed in wake of 9/11 attacks.
A decade-long Soviet occupation, and the following infighting between the various warlords from which the Taliban movement eventually emerged, had devastated the sources of income in the landlocked country.
In the past year, things have only gotten worse.
“Hunger is creeping up on us. That’s one of the reasons so many Afghans are searching for ways to get out of here,” says Abdul Karim Zadran, a 36-year-old Pashto-language poet from Kabul.
Like Sherzad, the doctor, he’s also glad and gives credit to the Taliban for bringing down the number of attacks and associated casualties that had become the norm until last year.
Both sides – the US-led forces and their local Afghan allies and the Taliban – were responsible for civilian deaths, according to human rights groups.
The frequency of violent attacks has drastically reduced since mid-August 2021, but Daesh has emerged as a threat as the terror group was behind some 700 civilian deaths, says the UN.
Europe is facing a severe energy crisis having been forced to buy expensive natural gas after supplies from Russia were cut in the wake of the Ukraine conflict.
Yet, European leaders have done little to address the humanitarian suffering in Afghanistan even as it forces more and more people to take the perilous journey to migrate westward.
Nearly 20 million people, half of Afghanistan’s population, are going hungry.
In one hospital in the Zabul province, doctors reported a 70 percent rise in the number of malnourished children in the first six months of 2022 compared to the same period of last year.
Some 3.9 million children have already fallen into the category of malnutrition, aid agencies say.
“Hunger is another form of war imposed upon us,” says Zadran, the poet.
“Where will the Taliban get the food from to feed the children? I see women lining up at stores all day just to get a hand on a piece of bread. Sometimes they go back empty-handed, others don’t have enough money to buy even half a loaf of bread.”
The US has seized more than $9 billion of Afghanistan’s central bank funds as it doesn’t recognise the Taliban government despite signing a peace deal with the group.
That amount is sufficient to ward off starvation, considering the World Food Programme (WFP) has issued an appeal for $960 million for its entire humanitarian operation for six months ending December 2022.
“I don’t know where I will be or what I will be doing tomorrow. At the moment, I don’t have a job, I don’t know if I will eat today or go to bed hungry,” says Zadran.
As bleak as the past
So far, the Taliban have kept government machinery going, albeit with the help of the bureaucracy from the previous regime. Short on medical supplies, but the hospitals are running. Most girls can’t go to school, but many boys do. Inflation is high, but so are exports of coal and agricultural products.
However, a Kabul under the Taliban still awaits international recognition – vital to attract foreign capital and investments.
“It’s been a year since the group took over, but our future still seems very uncertain,” says Assad Pason, 34, a lawyer from the Jalalabad province. “We don’t know what will happen tomorrow…how will they govern the country without enough money or international recognition?”
A lot of the uncertainty stems from Taliban conduct on the ground.
Pason wonders what the Taliban have in mind regarding basic human rights, civil liberties, and the constitution. “I often think when we are going to have elections?”
Perhaps there’s no better barometer to gauge the current situation than to ask one of the local journalists who, until last year, were in high demand working as stringers, translators, and fixers for western media outlets.
“I am not able to do my job due to the restrictions imposed by the Taliban. We are threatened for merely doing journalism. It was not like this before,” says Ayoub, 26, a journalist from Paktia province.
“But I continue to work. People keep asking me why you don’t have a salary, why you are still working in the media? I don’t have answers to these questions.”