Mullah Naqeebullah, a slim, young Taliban fighter, threw his shawl over his shoulder and adjusted his rifle. Under a sprawling mulberry tree in the small village of Sangesar in southern Kandahar province, Afghanistan, he entered the courtyard of a mud-brick mosque and entered.
He stood inches from the microphone, wrapped in a colorful cloth to keep the dust at bay, and falsely called the faithful to prayer.
It was here that Mullah Muhammad Omar founded the Taliban movement in 1994. group Kabul was captured in September 1996 and established the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, which established a narrow definition of Islamic jurisprudence Restricted Women and girls who work and go to school. Omar’s decision to grant al Qaeda safe haven eventually led to the overthrow of his government after the September 11 attacks. But never the Taliban left.
I first went to Afghanistan in 2009 to document the war. By then, the United States was in the throes of a brutal conflict against the Taliban, who had staged a massive insurgency to regain control of the country.
Besides the war, the United States was trying to help establish a government in Kabul while the US military was trying to build an Afghan army in its own image.
But for Afghans, it was just another chapter of foreign intervention in the country’s long history of conflict, which has included colonialism, tribalism, monarchy, communism and strict Islamic law. Americans didn’t realize how fragile the systems they built were until they all crashed.
I went to Afghanistan in July 2021 to document the US withdrawal. When things began to crumble around me, I stopped. On the morning of August 15, I stood outside the US Embassy and photographed a US Chinook helicopter swooping in to evacuate staff members. By that afternoon, I was photographing Taliban fighters entering the city.
Before that day, Taliban fighters seemed like ghosts. I rarely see them, but I always feel their presence. It was surreal to see them roll through the blast walls erected to keep them out and gather under the graffiti left behind by American troops.
In May, I returned to see what Afghanistan was like under Taliban rule. Nine months after their stunning victory and seizure of power, they are still struggling to access administrative, political power.
I found a country that lacked a functioning economy. A crowd of women wait outside the bakery for handouts. Men who once worked in offices must now sell vegetables in the market or sell used items to buy a little food to take home. Traders have seen their customers shrink as prices rise.
In the countryside, where the fiercest fighting took place, Taliban fighters now harass former US-held military installations. They marvel at the comforts enjoyed by their enemies as they spend years sleeping in the mountains hiding from US drones.
The Taliban are aware of the fragility of their control. He ruled in a brutal style. The same struggle can easily be waged against them.
Mohammad Usman Hamasi is a Taliban commander from Chak district in nearby Wardak province. During the war he trained as a suicide bomber but was arrested before completing his mission. “At that time I had no wife and no children. I wanted 100 percent to carry out such an attack, but God did not want me to become a martyr,” he said.
Mr. Hamasi told me that he was frustrated by the leadership’s refusal to admit girls to school. “In fact, many mujahideen are upset about the closure of schools,” he said. “I’m here,” he explained, as he spoke of his hopes for the movement, “so that my sister or daughter can go to school and learn within the framework of Islam, Sharia and the hijab.”
Afghan women have been the biggest victims of the Taliban’s return to power. Despite the Taliban’s pledge to protect their rights, they have seen slow progress.
Academician, journalist and civil society activist Ogai Amil watched from her small apartment as the country fell back to the Taliban. She hoped things would be different this time. “People thought that maybe the Taliban had changed and it would be easier to take over, the governance would be better, the security would be better and the country would be peaceful,” she told me. The women were instructed till May Cover their faces Avoid leaving home and public places.
She told me that over the past year she has come to interact informally with several Talib officials. “I tell them, ‘I’m not your enemy, but you have to stop all these restrictions,'” she said. “These are our human rights, given to us by God. Don’t take them away from us.”
Initially, the Taliban assured Afghans that girls of all ages would attend public schools when they reopened last September. But since then they have gone back On that promise.
I met two sisters, Basma and Bahara Ahmadi, at their family home in the mountains on the outskirts of Kabul. The uncertainty of the Taliban’s sanctions has rattled them.
Since they can no longer attend high school, they spend their days taking English lessons in the same room where their family weaves mats. They hope that the ability to speak perfect English will be their ticket to a scholarship that will allow them to study abroad.
The rapid collapse of Western-built governments was a milestone in a centuries-long struggle for self-determination that had been thwarted by outside interference. After more than a decade of reporting, I understand that, as with the Taliban, disrespect for many is a repetition of this process and not an aberration. Having lived under so many regimes, many Afghans wonder how long this will last.
It is impossible to know what the future holds for the country, but the next chapter must be written by Afghans themselves.
Victor J. Blue is a New York-based photojournalist who covers the legacy of armed conflict, human rights and the protection of civilian populations.