‘People are afraid’: Kabul deserted and women in tears as city falls to Taliban

Locals withdraw savings, stock up on food and hide at home as fear descends on city

Former Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai has called on the people of Kabul "to stay in your homes" after thousands rushed to the city's airport in an attempt to flee after Taliban forces took control of the Afghan capital. Video: Reuters

 

Residents of Kabul said on Sunday that the dramatic fall of the city had left them deeply fearful, and especially worried for the futures of their wives and daughters under Taliban rule.

The streets of the Afghan capital were eerily deserted on Sunday afternoon as Taliban fighters entered the city. Most people were holed up at home. Police and security forces associated with the pro-western government swapped their uniforms for civilian clothes.

Others put on white scarves, the colour of the Taliban. Earlier in the day, locals thronged banks in an attempt to withdraw their savings, and rushed to markets to try to stock up on food.

“People are afraid. They are fearful for their families, for their wives and their daughters especially,” said one resident, Sayed, speaking from Kabul by phone.

He added: “A few residents in Kabul with links to the Taliban are happy. But the majority are really afraid.”

As the Taliban advanced to Kabul’s gates, Sayed said he saw women crying by the side of the road, desperately trying to get a ride home and to barricade their doors.

“People were running. Everyone was trying to find a vehicle. There were no taxis. Before, a trip would cost $2. Now the prices have gone up five times.”

Groups of fighters entered several districts, Sayed said, even before the Taliban fully took over the city.

They raised the white Taliban flag in the historic Babur gardens, where the first Mughal emperor is buried, and surrounded a police station in district seven, telling the officers inside to surrender and to give up their weapons.

People pass through checkpoints at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul ahead of the Taliban’s arrival, where one resident described seeing women crying by the side of the road, desperately trying to get a ride home and to barricade their doors. Photograph: Jim Huylebroek/The New York Times
People pass through checkpoints at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul ahead of the Taliban’s arrival, where one resident described seeing women crying by the side of the road, desperately trying to get a ride home and to barricade their doors. Photograph: Jim Huylebroek/The New York Times

Kabul residents were overwhelmingly sceptical of the Taliban’s claim that no one would be harmed. They cited Facebook posts showing executions of Afghan soldiers in cities such as Kandahar, seized by the Taliban last Thursday. Fighters had reportedly carried out house-to-house searches.

“We know what will happen next. The Taliban will start hunting for ‘traitors’. That means anyone who served with the Afghan military, or who worked with Nato forces and the Americans.

“They will also target the houses of rich businessmen in Kabul, asking them how they made their money, and were able to build a four- or five-storey property,” he predicted.

The situation for ordinary Afghans was terrible, with rocketing prices, he added, the cost of flour soaring from 1,700 Afghanis (€18) to 2,500 Afghanis.

“We are in a bad situation,” Sayed said. “I have no money and four children - boys aged three, five and 14 and a 12-year-old daughter.

“I don’t have any resources to escape, the borders are shut and the Taliban have taken Mazar-i-Sharif and Jalalabad. I may try to lie low with my father-in-law for a couple of days. But after that, what?”

A generation failed

Other residents expressed a sense of betrayal as the US evacuated diplomats from its embassy on Sunday, leaving ordinary Afghans to their fates.

“You failed the younger generation of Afghanistan,” said Aisha Khurram, a 22-year-old Afghan university student, speaking to the Associated Press.

She was unsure if she would be able to graduate in two months’ time.

She added: “A generation raised in the modern Afghanistan were hoping to build the country with their own hands. They put blood, efforts and sweat into whatever we had right now.”

A power cut meant residents struggled to get up-to-date news on Sunday. “We don’t have electricity to charge mobiles or watch TV,” one said. Instead they relied on information swapped among friends and family, including a rumour - apparently accurate - that the president, Ashraf Ghani, had escaped the country.

Taliban fighters drive into Kabul. Photograph: Jim Huylebroek/The New York Times
Taliban fighters drive into Kabul. Photograph: Jim Huylebroek/The New York Times

British citizens working in Kabul found themselves struggling to leave. Kitty Chevallier (24), who works for the British charity Afghanaid, said she received a call at 2am from the Foreign Office in London telling her to get the next flight out.

“I haven’t seen or heard any reports of violence. But we’ve been hearing some gunfire sporadically in the area,” said Chevallier, who is from Hampshire.

“Earlier I saw a few Afghan women in tears. It’s generally been very relaxed and orderly. The roads were very blocked in certain places but also people still handing out drinks to passing vehicles, for the Ashura celebration coming up this week.”

Some fellow expatriates had difficulties getting in touch with European embassies but were now leaving on commercial flights, she said.

Others said their relatives were stranded. Fereba Hafizi (29), a fashion photographer from Coventry, said her 82-year-old mother was stuck in Kabul. She went to the British embassy but it was unable to help, she said.

“Many people are stranded,” Hafizi said. “They are not offering any support. The embassy is refusing to take a list of the [stranded]British citizens and offer them flights.”

She added: “In the press, they’ve declared that flights are being arranged for the return of British nationals, which everyone expects to assume it includes any British national.

“Unfortunately, the rule only applies to the British nationals that worked or are working in some form of government jobs.”– Guardian