Many Afghans are worried about their country’s future under a return to Taliban leadership.
The Taliban completed its lightning advance across Afghanistan after it stormed the presidential palace in Kabul on Sunday, all but sealing its takeover of the country.
President Ashraf Ghani fled the country overnight, ostensibly to prevent further bloodshed, while the US scrambled to evacuate its personnel from the capital.
Thousands of Afghans are also trying to leave, as another refugee crisis beckons.
Key cities and regions across the country had fallen to the Taliban at breakneck speed in a matter of days, following weeks of fighting between insurgents and Afghan forces after a rapid pullout of US forces this summer.
As Afghan leaders work to form a transitional government, reality has begun to sink in: after pouring in $2 trillion over two decades, Washington’s so-called nation-building effort has all but ended in failure.
It’s a result that will have far-reaching consequences for Afghans, many of whom reacted with horror and helplessness to the stunning capitulation of the capital to the Taliban yesterday.
“I feel devastated,” Alamgir Malik told TRT World. “I can smell the old Taliban coming back to power and the lives of Afghans will come to a standstill just like in 1996.”
The 26-year-old, now in Pakistan, blamed Ghani’s “stubbornness” for allowing the situation to deteriorate so rapidly, adding that “it would have been much better had he left a few months back rather than fleeing the country once the Taliban were at the gates of Kabul.”
Malik described the US role in Afghanistan as one ultimately of “betrayal” following their peace deal with the Taliban in 2020.
“What was the need of this whole 20-year long war which [cost] trillions of dollars and thousands of innocent lives?”
“I can’t understand what they have gained [other] than embarrassment and giving Afghans false hope. It would have been a lot better had they never intervened in Afghanistan.”
36-year-old Hidayatullah from Kabul slammed the manner of the US withdrawal.
“The way they left this country showed their disrespect for human life,” she told TRT World, adding that it was an “unjust decision” that will come under “severe criticism from all corners of the world.”
A mother of four, Hidayatullah also condemned Ghani’s tenure in office, claiming it was “hijacked by few people who had no interest to build a nation and create strong ties between people and the government.”
Whatever expectations of progress Hidayatullah pinned her hopes in the intervening two decades quickly evaporated after seeing the Taliban in the streets, bringing the country back to square one.
She is now mulling over whether to stay back and live in Afghanistan or leave the country.
“Hopeless, lost, furious,” is how the Kabul-based Pashtana expressed her feelings.
For the 23-year-old, it’s not so much how the US left but their normalisation of the Taliban.
“The fact that they legitimised the Doha deal makes me sad and furious that someone else decided our fate,” she told TRT World.
While not excusing the US invasion, what worries Pashtana is that any of the gains made in women’s rights and education over the years will be threatened with the Taliban back in power.
Malik tries to interject a bit of faith that this won’t be a rerun of the 1990s, adding that contrary to the revenge killings and chaos of those years, the Taliban have so far exhibited a “changed mindset” which he hopes will continue so the group avoids bloodshed and alleviates public fear.
Meanwhile, some younger observers were quite candid about where the responsibility for Afghanistan’s mess ought to lie.
“My feelings are anger, fear for my family and friends,” 11-year-old Abubakar Gharzai told TRT World.
Now in the US, Gharzai believed the circumstances around the American withdrawal shouldn’t have made any difference. Instead, he rests the burden of blame on the feet of the Hamid Karzai and Ghani governments.
“The last 20 years were a golden opportunity to build the country. But the elite robbed the country over and over again and sold it in the end.”