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Taliban ban use of foreign currency in Afghanistan

The Taliban announced a complete ban on the use of foreign currency in Afghanistan on Tuesday, a move sure to cause further disruption to an economy pushed to the brink of collapse by the abrupt withdrawal of international support.

The surprise move came hours after at least 25 people were killed and more than 50 wounded when gunmen attacked Afghanistan’s biggest military hospital after two heavy explosions at the site in central Kabul.

“The economic situation and national interests in the country require that all Afghans use Afghan currency in their every trade,” the Taliban said in a statement shared with journalists by one of their spokesmen.

The use of U.S. dollars is widespread in Afghanistan’s markets, while border areas use the currency of neighbouring countries such as Pakistan for trade.

The Taliban government is pressing for the release of billions of dollars of central bank reserves as the drought-stricken nation faces a cash crunch, mass starvation and a new migration crisis.

Afghanistan parked billions of dollars in assets overseas with the U.S. Federal Reserve and other central banks in Europe, but that money has been frozen since the Islamist Taliban ousted the Western-backed government in August.

The departure of U.S.-led forces and many international donors left the country without grants that financed three quarters of public spending.

The finance ministry said it had a daily tax take of roughly 400 million Afghanis ($4.4 million).

Although Western powers want to avert a humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan, they have refused to officially recognise the Taliban government.

T20 World Cup: India staring at league stage exit

Their campaign taking another hit with a second successive defeat, India will need to win all their remaining matches while hoping that other results go their way to keep their semifinal prospects alive in the T20 World Cup.

India and New Zealand were locked in a virtual quarter-final, from which the latter emerged triumphant following a convincing eight-wicket win, seven days after Virat Kohli’s men suffered a 10-wicket drubbing to arch-rivals Pakistan.

Virat Kohli’s men would now pray that Afghanistan beat New Zealand and India win their remaining three fixtures against Scotland, Namibia and the Afghanistan.

With the Indians scheduled to play the last game of the league stage, against Namibia, they might get an opportunity to improve their net run rate, provided other results favour them.

The loss against the Kiwis has pushed India on the brink of a league stage exit though technically they are still not out.

Pakistan have finished three big games and are expected to thrash Scotland and Namibia in their coming fixtures.

In the six-team Group 2, India are currently struggling at the fifth place with two losses after as many matches.

Pakistan lead the group with three wins in as many outings and they are followed by Afghanistan with two wins and a loss from three matches, and New Zealand in third place with a win and loss from two game.

Given Afghanistan’s potent spin attack, decent batting, and most importantly, their penchant for standing up to the bigger teams, they will be India’s bet against the New Zealanders.

The Afghans came close to winning their match against Pakistan before Asif Ali’s blitz put paid to their hopes.

Taliban supreme leader makes first public appearance

Taliban supreme leader Haibatullah Akhundzada addressed supporters in the southern city of Kandahar, officials announced Sunday, his first public appearance since taking control of the group in 2016.

Akhundzada has been the spiritual chief of the Islamist movement since 2016 but has remained a reclusive figure, even after the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan.

His low profile has fed speculation about his role in the new Taliban government, formed after the group took control of Kabul in mid-August — and even rumours of his death.

On Saturday, he visited the Darul Uloom Hakimah madrassa to “speak to his brave soldiers and disciples”, according to the introduction to an audio recording circulated by Taliban social media accounts.

“May God reward the oppressed people of Afghanistan who fought the infidels and the oppressors for 20 years,” Akhundzada said, in the recording. “My intention here is to pray for you and you pray for me”.

In the 10-minute recording, he prays for the Taliban martyrs, wounded fighters and the success of officials involved in the “big test” of rebuilding what they call the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

“Let’s pray that we come out of this big test successfully. May Allah help us stay strong,” he said.

There was tight security at the event and no photographs or video have emerged.

Akhundzada is referred to as “Amirul Momineen”, commander of the faithful, the rank conferred on the late Taliban founder Mullah Omar by his supporters.

Akhundzada is thought to have been selected to serve more as a spiritual figurehead than a military commander, but his unusually public statements will fuel speculation that he now plans to take a more central role in leading the new government.

— Unifying figure — Akhundzada rose from low-profile religious figure to leader of the Taliban in a swift transition of power after a 2016 US drone strike killed his predecessor, Mullah Akhtar Mansour.

After being appointed leader, he secured the backing of Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, who showered the cleric with praise — calling him “the emir of the faithful”.

This endorsement by Osama bin Laden’s heir helped seal his jihadist credentials with the Taliban’s long-time allies.

Akhundzada was tasked with unifying a Taliban movement that briefly fractured during the bitter power struggle after Akhtar’s assassination, and the revelation that the leadership had hidden the death of their founder Mullah Omar for years.

His public profile has largely been limited to the release of messages during Islamic holidays, and Akhundzada is believed to spend most of his time in Kandahar, the main city in the Taliban’s southern Afghan heartland.

His last message was on September 7, when he told the newly appointed Taliban government in Kabul to uphold sharia law as they govern Afghanistan.

Last week, Mullah Yussef Wafa, the Taliban governor of Kandahar and a close ally of Akhundzada, told AFP he was in regular contact with his mysterious chief.

“We have regular meetings with him about the control of the situation in Afghanistan and how to make a good government,” he said in an interview.

“As he is our teacher, and everyone’s teacher, we are trying to learn something from him,” he added.

“He gives advice to every leader of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and we are following his rules, advice, and if we have a progressive government in the future it’s because of his advice.”

UAE bans entry from Indonesia, Afghanistan: WAM

The UAE will ban entry for travelers coming from Indonesia and Afghanistan as of July 11, except for transit flights heading to both countries, the official news agency WAM reported on Saturday.

The decision, linked to coronavirus concerns, also includes suspending the entry of travelers who were in these countries in the 14 days prior to coming to the UAE.

The UAE will also prevent its citizens from traveling to Indonesia and Afghanistan, with the exception of diplomatic missions, emergency medical treatment cases, official delegations and previously authorized economic and scientific delegations, said the news agency citing the General Civil Aviation Authority and the National Emergency Crisis and Disasters Management Authority.

Afghanistan’s Sikhs to ‘make choice between converting to Islam or leaving country’: Report

As the security scenario in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate, Sikhs — a community that was already in a dire situation before the collapse of the government — practically have to make a choice between options of “converting to Sunni Islam or run away” from Afghanistan, said a report.

The community, which once numbered in the tens of thousands, has been ruined and devastated by years of emigration and death, driven by both systemic discrimination and an uptick in fanatical religious violence in Afghanistan, International Forum For Rights and Security (IFFRAS) said.

The larger numbers of Sikhs live in Kabul while some in the provinces of Ghazni and Nangarhar.

On October 5, 15 to 20 terrorists entered Gurdwara (Sikh temple) and tied up the guards. The attack happened in the Kart-e-Parwan District of Kabul. Sikhs in Afghanistan often experience such attacks and violence in the country.

There were many anti-Sikh violent attacks in Afghanistan.

Last year in June an Afghan Sikh leader was kidnapped, reportedly by ‘terrorists’. No further details about the case were disclosed by the sources.

Another Sikh man was kidnapped and killed in Kabul in March 2019. Later, Afghanistan’s police had arrested two suspects. While in Kandahar, another, some unknown gunmen had shot another Sikh man.

Sikhs have been living in Afghanistan for centuries but for decades even the Afghan government has failed to provide Sikhs adequate housing or reinstate their homes, which has been illegally occupied by their powerful neighbours or warlords during the 1990s. After the recent massacre of the Sikhs by the Taliban in a Gurdwara in Kabul on March 26, 2020, most Afghan Sikhs were leaving for India, said IFFRAS.

Further, the forum highlighted that as the people of the Sikh community don’t fall under the mainstream Sunni sect of Islam, they are either meant to be forcefully converted as Sunni Muslims or killed. The Taliban ‘government’ will never allow persity to thrive in the Afghan state and society. The strictest form of Islamic code with tribal customs will result in the annihilation of all the minority sects of Afghanistan, including Sikhs.

Women in burqa, Men in salwar kameez, and artistes in hiding in 2 months of Taliban ‘rule’

Mansoor Haidry, a doctor from Kabul, has been living in India for six years and runs a general store in Bhogal in the national capital. Most members of his joint family are, however, not so fortunate. They continue to live in the Afghan capital, and with the dreaded Taliban now in power, life is certainly no bed of roses for them.

“I often feel I was born in the wrong place,” Haidry tells ET.

He makes it a point to talk to his female cousins, Amida and Zeenat, in Afghanistan every day, as the country has gone back to a past it dreaded. After the Taliban overran the country two months ago, it has been a frightening transition for women and for those who had worked in the previous government or its military.

“There is no way to get them here immediately, so they are slowly accepting the new reality. They had finished university with distinction and were applying for work. They would talk to me about taxes and savings, but their dreams have come crashing down with the Taliban coming back,” Haidry says. “They don’t even leave the house now, and whenever they do, they have to wear the burqa – covering even their faces – which they have never been used to.”

Amina, a post-graduate in history, told ET over phone from Kabul that the few times she left the house in the last two months, there had been a constant feeling of being watched.

“My brother, who is an experienced health worker, is sitting at home. He has not been paid salaries for the last six months despite working both shifts during Covid-19. The Taliban want men to re-join, but they don’t have the money to pay them. Every teacher who has taught me is getting papers prepared to leave this country,” the 23-year-old says.

Fear is all-prevalent, especially among ethnic minorities like the Hazaras and Tajiks, as also journalists, teachers, health workers, musicians, students, YouTubers, tattoo and makeup artists, and others.

There is a cash squeeze and prices of essential commodities have spiralled, worsening the already dire situation.

According to Amina, there are conspicuous changes on the streets of Kabul.

“Men are the only ones stepping out regularly, but they have also switched to traditional salwar kameez. There are no shirts and trousers or jeans, or musical evenings in cafes. We would earlier go to fancy restaurants or bakeries to hang out, not anymore,” she says.

Haidry says many YouTubers from Afghanistan – who used to post content on Afghan food, fashion and travel – have disappeared.

“Some put out a formal goodbye saying they won’t be posting content anymore and would not reveal their whereabouts. It was heart-breaking because I used to follow them regularly to keep in touch with my roots,” he says.

Essential items are fast becoming scarce. Chicken and meat are not easy to find, while medicines are in short supply, says Ahmad Hosseini, a dry fruit merchant from Kabul during a meeting with this correspondent at old Delhi’s Khari Baoli, a wholesale grocery centre.

“There are more displaced people in Afghanistan than ever before. The cash crunch and rising prices of essentials have made the situation worse. Every other day, I see artists selling fine stuff on pavements because there are no buyers. Even electronics has become cheaper than essentials,” he says. Many hoping to flee have been affected by the unavailability of direct flights from Kabul. On the other hand, some have been stuck here for months.

“Essential items are fast becoming scarce. Chicken and meat are not easy to find, while medicines are in short supply”

— Ahmad Hosseini, a dry fruit merchant

Ahmad Orani and wife Mehbooba have been living in a rented apartment in Delhi’s Saket area for over eight months now.

“I had a heart surgery a few months ago, but we are stuck here, and expenses are rising. There are many medical tourists like us who depend on India to get well, but we want to go home too. Right now, the only option is to go through Iran, which can get expensive and tiring for patients,” Mehbooba says.

Many Afghans who had worked in the army or government have destroyed evidence of their work and are afraid to leave their homes.

“We are waiting instead for an opportunity to leave the country. Finances are a problem, as a lot of it has been frozen, so the funds are not easily available. People are only allowed to take out $200 every week,” Mohamed Sadiq told ET over phone from Mazar-e-Sharif, a major economic hub in the north that is close to the Uzbekistan border.

Long before their takeover, the Taliban were already governing, often through their own court system, he says. “Poverty is more widespread now as the rich have gone into hiding. The Taliban are known to also track vehicles of former officials,” he says.

Afghan journalist Salman Hossaini, who managed to escape to the United States following the Taliban takeover, told ET that the reduction in international funds has made worse the economic and human rights situation.

“The intervention of foreign NGOs and aid over the years helped activists, politicians, researchers, artists, journalists, actors, business leaders, and sportspeople. Now, every day, I hear of them moving from one place to another in panic. Their social media profiles have been removed; many have become inaccessible,” Hossaini says.

More than 150 media outlets have shut down due to fear of the Taliban, he says, after the regime issued new directives to the media, asking them do their work without “insulting national figures or Islam, and in coordination with the government”.

In the first few days after the takeover, celebratory firings in Kabul were a constant affair, social activist Asma Fareed says, and Taliban are now patrolling the streets. “Even the internet is very patchy. In rural areas, the fighting and clashes have reduced, but in many places, the economic distress is driving people to desperation,” she says.

Women have had to bear the brunt of the regime’s restrictions.

On Thursday, a group of Afghan women led by former politician Fawzia Koofi and former diplomat Naheed Fareed urged the United Nations to block the Taliban from gaining a seat at the world body, saying the group had broken its promise to treat women “equally.”

Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesperson, had said recently that women need to be accompanied by a ‘mahram’ or a male guardian only for travels longer than three days, not for daily activities such as taking children to school, shopping, or for medical appointments. Taliban officials have not been following that though, Fareed pointed out.

“The ministry for women development does not exist anymore. When women in Herat protested, they (Taliban) told them… they (women) won’t be punished for activities in the past,” she says. “Many men in Afghanistan do not strongly disagree with the Taliban and the protesters have been younger, mostly students. Women feel abandoned,” Fareed says.

The Taliban have pledged to review the curriculum for Afghan schools, which is likely to reduce access to a range of subjects such as science and history. They have also forced universities and schools to put in place gender segregation policies before re-admitting female students.

Farzana Ahmadi, who was till recently working as an administration officer for the government, said she would earlier put out videos of hiking, baking and dance lessons for children, but has since been inactive on social media.

“Many of my friends, particularly those who worked in salons or tattoo parlours, have completely gone missing,” she tells ET.

“…most of us want to leave, but it is not that easy. There are direct flights only to Arab nations…to India, one has to go through Iran. Processing of papers takes a lot of time…even our neighbours cannot know of our plans,” she says.

( Originally published on Oct 23, 2021 )

Indian saffron’s international prices skyrocket after Afghan supply hit by Taliban takeover

The price of Indian


has skyrocketed in the international market after the Taliban crisis hit Afghanistan’s export of the world’s most expensive spice.

A kilo of Indian saffron is now available for Rs 2.25 lakh, having vaulted from Rs 1.4 lakh per kg a few months ago.

Saffron is grown in four districts in Jammu and Kashmir– Pulwama, Budgam, Srinagar and Kishtwar. Among them, Pulwama district’s Pampore has earned the title of Kashmir’s “saffron town” for growing the best quality saffron.

The Kashmir valley produces 12 metric tonnes of saffron, which is used in food, perfume, dyes and for medicinal purposes.

“Saffron producers (in India) are flooded with enquiries from the US, Belgium, New Zealand, Canada and the Gulf nations,” Mohammad Qasim Ghani, joint director, agriculture extension, Kashmir, told ET. “Prices have moved up to Rs 2.25 lakh per kg. All exports are happening using the online platform.”

According to Ghani, the National Saffron Mission has resulted in yield of the crop going up to 4.5 kg per hectare, from 1.8 kg per hectare a few years ago.

“Our target is to increase the yield to 7-8 kg per hectare and bring an additional 37,000 hectares under saffron cultivation,” Ghani said.

Afghanistan had been making strides in saffron cultivation, which began in the country in 2010. Exporting this valuable crop to foreign markets, paved the way for the country to become the third-largest saffron producer in the world, behind India and Iran. But the Taliban’s takeover of power in Kabul has stalled the country’s exports several commodities, including saffron.

Saffron and dry fruit traders from the Kashmir valley said that only 10% of the saffron produced in the valley is used in the domestic market. The domestic demand is met through saffron from Iran and Afghanistan.

The Afghan crisis has also pushed up the price of Iranian saffron in India.

“Iranian saffron prices, too, have become expensive by Rs 30,000 per kg in the Indian market since the supply side from Afghanistan dried up,” said Nisar Ahmad Dar, cofounder of Pampore-based Al Ansar Saffron & Dry Fruits. “Asafoetida prices have gone up by 30%, whereas prices of figs that come from Afghanistan as dry fruits have gone up by Rs 300 per kg.”

India annually imports 36,000 tonnes of dry fruits and spices.

Afghanistan has seen bumper dry fruit production this year and exporters are in constant touch with Indian buyers despite the situation in that country, Indian dry fruit importers said.

Exports of dry fruits and spices from Afghanistan start in September, just before Diwali and the festive season in India. This is the time when companies too start buying dry fruits for gifting purposes.

Being a signatory to the South Asian Free Trade Area, imports from Afghanistan enjoy duty concessions in India with a maximum tariff of 5%. The tariff on consignments from other countries is in the 30-40% range.

“It is unlikely that the Taliban will put any curbs on exports of dry fruits to India, as it is a major revenue earner for the country,” said Vijay Kumar Bhuta, president of the Bombay Dry Fruits and Date Merchants Association. “We are hopeful that trade with Afghanistan will normalise soon.”

Joe Biden ran on competence and empathy. Afghanistan is testing that

For most of the past week, in the fires of the worst foreign policy crisis of his young administration, the president who won the White House on a promise of competence and compassion has had trouble demonstrating much of either.

The chaos in Kabul and his own conflicting messages have left President Joe Biden struggling to assert command over world events and seemingly more intent on washing his hands of Afghanistan than expressing concern over the humanitarian tragedy unfolding on the ground.

Biden’s team argues that it will not matter in the long run because Americans agree with his decision to pull out after 20 years of war and do not care what happens in Afghanistan as long as their fellow citizens are extracted safely. Afghanistan is America’s longest war, stretching through four presidencies, and none of those presidents found a way to disengage successfully.

The tumultuous endgame of Biden’s withdrawal has nonetheless undercut some of the most fundamental premises of Biden’s presidency — that unlike his erratic, self-absorbed predecessor, he brought foreign policy seasoning, adults-in-the-room judgment and a surfeit of empathy to the Oval Office.

“I just had the feeling that he was so wrapped up in the decision itself that he forgot the basics of implementation,” said Leon Panetta, the former defense secretary who served alongside Biden in President Barack Obama’s administration. “The American people may be with you on the decision, but if they see chaos, they’re going to be very concerned that the president doesn’t have his act together.”

“The American people may be with you on the decision, but if they see chaos, they’re going to be very concerned that the president doesn’t have his act together”

— Leon Panetta, former US defense secretary

David Axelrod, a former strategist for Obama, said he had no doubt that most Americans agreed with Biden that it was time to wrap up the Afghanistan operation. “The way it’s ending, at least thus far, is more problematical,” he said, “and cuts against some of his core perceived strengths: competence, mastery of foreign policy, supreme empathy. It’s as if his eagerness to end the war overran the planning and execution.”

After days of withering criticism from allies as well as adversaries, Biden tried to repair some of the damage Friday with a half-hour appearance in the East Room of the White House in which he asserted that the evacuation operation had “made significant progress” while acknowledging that images of desperate Afghans chasing planes and handing a baby over barbed wire have been “heartbreaking” and “gut-wrenching.”

Faulted earlier in the week for not consulting with allies, Biden made a point of noting that he had now called the leaders of Britain, Germany and France. Mocked for spending time at Camp David, where he had gone for summer break, while Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, Biden delayed his flight to his home in Wilmington, Delaware, to Saturday, from Friday afternoon.

Panetta said Biden seemed to have realized that he had mishandled the message, at least, and needed to make adjustments. “I just had a sense that he was back on his feet today as opposed to earlier in the week,” he said.

Beyond repeating that “the buck stops with me,” however, Biden conceded no mistakes of his own and again deflected the harsh reviews by focusing on his desire to end the war rather than directly addressing what many consider the botched execution of that decision.

“There will be plenty of time to criticize and second-guess when this operation is over,” Biden said. “But now, now, I’m focused on getting this job done.”

As he has all week, Biden made assertions seemingly at odds with reality. His description of a smoother evacuation contrasted with the continuing confusion at the Kabul airport, where flights were halted for hours Friday until they resumed late in the day. His claim that there was “no question of our credibility” with NATO allies belied the deep frustration in European capitals. And while Biden hailed the “degree of precision” of the operation, he could not say how many Americans were still in danger.

Those comments came after other suspect statements earlier in the week. A month after he said it was “highly unlikely” the Taliban would take over Afghanistan and there was “no circumstance” that would lead to a chaotic, Saigon-like exit, Biden told George Stephanopoulos of ABC News this week that chaos was in fact always inevitable. While multiple reports indicated that military leaders argued to keep a small force in Afghanistan rather than pull out entirely, Biden insisted that “no one said that to me that I can recall.”

At points, the president has evinced little sense of the human toll as the Taliban swept back to power. Asked about pictures of fleeing Afghans packed into planes and some even falling to their death after trying to sneak aboard, Biden interrupted. “That was four days ago, five days ago,” he said, when in fact it was two days earlier and hardly made less horrific by the passage of a couple of sunsets.

While largely disavowing any errors, Biden instead has pointed the finger at his predecessor, Donald Trump; the now-deposed Afghan government; the vanishing Afghan security forces and even Afghan civilians whom he said resisted being evacuated earlier. He has avoided blaming the Taliban, presumably to avoid antagonizing them while executing the evacuation.

Losing the public perception of basic competence can be hazardous for a presidency. Jimmy Carter learned that during the Iran hostage crisis that began in 1979 and ultimately cost him reelection a year later. George W. Bush learned that during the mishandled response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Trump’s critics never considered him particularly apt in office, but his handling of the coronavirus pandemic undermined him further.

Biden’s stumbles have been particularly striking given that the longtime senator and former vice president brought more experience in national and international affairs to the White House than any newly inaugurated president in more than three decades. But his aides maintain that Americans will look beyond the turmoil of recent days to the bigger picture.

“What Americans are seeing is a president who has the courage of his conviction that this is the right decision for our country, even when that decision is hard,” said Kate Bedingfield, the White House communications director. “They are seeing a president who promised to end America’s longest war and kept his word, and who takes responsibility when things don’t go perfectly because the buck stops with him.”

The Biden team’s cold political calculation is that the outrage expressed by the Washington political class and the ghastly images shown by the national news media will have little lasting effect on Americans who will soon forget the messy departure but remember that the president got the United States out of a failed war.

They may be right. By Friday, newspapers in places like Phoenix, Fresno, California, Jacksonville, Florida, Minneapolis and Providence, Rhode Island, had no stories about Afghanistan on their front pages. Americans historically have not voted much on foreign policy unless it directly involved Americans, which is why Biden’s main priority has been to get his own citizens out without casualties or a hostage situation.

“Biden thinks he gets away with this as long as there are no Americans that are killed on the ground, which is a big if because a lot of things could go wrong,” said Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, a geopolitical risk firm. “But I happen to agree with him. I think that’s right.” At the same time, he added, “I’m amazed at how he’s mishandled this with the allies.”

“Biden thinks he gets away with this as long as there are no Americans that are killed on the ground, which is a big if because a lot of things could go wrong”

— Ian Bremmer, president, Eurasia Group

The political danger for Biden may be that the chaotic exit provides fodder for a broader Republican argument that he is not up to the job and has left the United States humiliated on the world stage. The pictures of bedlam are like political manna for campaign ad-makers who no doubt will try to paint Biden as another Carter.

Some of those who have criticized Biden nonetheless said the final verdict was yet to be written. It will hinge, they said, on whether he can ensure the safety not just of Americans trying to leave the country but also the Afghans who worked with the United States over the past two decades, even if it takes longer than Biden’s Aug. 31 deadline.

“The president still has a lot of agency over how this will be perceived and the impact on our reputation for compassion and competence,” said Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J. “It all depends on whether he’s willing to do what it takes and to allow our military to do what it’s capable of doing to rescue everybody we can without regard to any artificial deadline.”

That chapter may be written in the next few days and weeks.

In Video: Afghanistan crisis: Biden pledges to evacuate all Americans and Afghan helpers, but ‘cannot promise’ a final outcome

In Taliban’s seven-day march to power, a stunning string of wins

In just seven days, any lingering dreams of a free Afghanistan died.

As last week dawned, many clung to hope that the Taliban could be held back, though key trade routes had been seized, border crossings overtaken and swaths of remote areas clutched. But then, in just a week, militants won city after city, toppled the government and grabbed the grand prize of Kabul.

On its streets, ads with women in Western clothes were covered in white paint, while men in jeans and T-shirts rushed to change into traditional tunics. At the U.S. embassy, staff raced to destroy documents as helicopters shuttled away diplomats.

Fingers once splashed with purple ink – residue of voting, a badge of democracy – now clenched tickets seeking exit, and franticly punched ATMs to withdraw life savings.

All in seven days.

“The only thing people are thinking about is how to survive here or how to escape,” said Aisha Khurram, a 22-year-old headed to class Sunday at Kabul University before being turned back, unsure whether she would ever be able to return, or if females will once again be barred from school. “The only thing we have is our God.”

Even for a country scarred by generations of warfare, it was an astonishing week.

The week dawns with news that insurgents claimed the northern cities of Aybak and Sar-e Pul.

In some districts, pro-government forces surrender without a fight. In others, where firefights sprout, desperate residents are forced from their homes, trudging hundreds of kilometers on foot in exodus.

“We walked with slippers, didn’t have the chance to wear our shoes,” says Bibi Ruqia, who left northern Takhar province for Kabul after a bomb hit her house. “We had to escape.”


As the Taliban’s drive widens, they emerge in more and parts of the country carrying M-16 rifles and driving Humvees and Ford pickup trucks, equipment paid for by American taxpayers.

The fall of Aybak and Sar-e Pul pleases the Taliban fighters; afterward, they are seen on video relishing their victory outside one of the government buildings they now controlled.

But Americans and the Afghan troops they spent years training had reasons to take heart: The cities were just the fourth and fifth provincial capitals to crumble. Twenty-nine more remained.

In the sparkling Qatari capital of Doha, American envoy Zalmay Khalilzad arrives with a warning to the Taliban: Any gains made by force would be met with international condemnation and assure their status as global pariahs.

The effectiveness of the diplomacy is diminished, though, by Taliban forces’ push into the western city of Farah. They are seen in front of the provincial governor’s office.

As the United States’ self-imposed Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw its troops nears, the Taliban steadily gains ground while hundreds of thousands are displaced. Kabul’s parks swell with the newly homeless, while the United Nations releases tallies of civilian deaths and injuries they know would only grow.

“The real figures,” says U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet, “will be much higher.”

Three more provincial capitals fall in Badakhshan, Baghlan and Farah, giving the Taliban control over two-thirds of the country. With those regions lost, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani rushes to Balkh province, already surrounded by Taliban-controlled land, to secure help from warlords linked to allegations of atrocities and corruption. But he is desperate to push back the insurgents.

At the White House, President Joe Biden signs off on a plan to mount a full-scale evacuation of Afghans seeking to flee their country after a new intelligence analysis makes clear the country’s government and military are unwilling or unable to mount any significant resistance. Afghan special forces, left to pick up much of the burden of defending multiple fronts, are stretched increasingly thin.

As the Taliban’s drive widens, they emerge in more and parts of the country carrying M-16 rifles and driving Humvees and Ford pickup trucks, equipment paid for by American taxpayers.

Any hope that the Taliban’s successes might be limited to Afghanistan’s more remote reaches vanish, as the country’s second- and third-largest cities are captured.

With Kandahar and Herat, a dozen provincial capitals are now in the group’s grasp. And with security rapidly deteriorating, the U.S. reverses course, announcing 3,000 troops will be sent to help evacuate the embassy.

Zahra, a 26-year-old resident of Herat, is on her way to dinner with her mother and three sisters when she sees people running and heard gunshots blast. “The Taliban are here!” people scream.

She spent most of her life in an Afghanistan where girls got an education and women dared to dream of careers and she had spent the past five years working with nonprofit organizations to press for gender equality. Now, her last name is shrouded to avoid making her a target, and she hunkers down indoors with her family.

“How can it be possible for me as a woman who has worked so hard and tried to learn and advance, to now have to hide myself and stay at home?” she asks.

Taliban fighters finally break through at Herat after two weeks of attacks. As they move in, witnesses tell of Taliban members once detained in the city’s prison are spotted moving freely in its streets.

As the Taliban push ever further into the country they once again seek to rule, reports of revenge killings trickle out: A comedian. A government media chief. Others.

Signs of a new day in Afghanistan proliferate.

In Herat, two alleged looters are paraded through the streets with black makeup smeared on their faces, reminders of the unsparing version of Islamic law the Taliban has imposed. In Kandahar, militants commandeer a radio station that had beamed Pashto and Indian songs into residents’ homes, music banned by the Taliban. The tunes stop, abruptly. And the station is renamed Voice of Sharia.

Militants complete their sweep of the country’s south, taking four more provincial capitals. Among them is Helmand province, where American, British and other allied NATO forces fought some of their bloodiest battles. Hundreds of Western troops died there during the war. Now, many of their families ask why.

Ghani delivers a televised speech in which he vows not to give up achievements of the 20 years since the Taliban were toppled. But the group pushes forward, notching more victories.

Along the Pakistani border, the provinces of Paktika and Kunar fall. In the north, Faryab province is taken. And in the country’s center, Daykundi is captured. Biggest of all, Mazar-e-Sharif – the country’s fourth-largest city, a heavily defended swath that government forces had pledged to defend – is now under Taliban control.

The unfolding disaster prompts a statement from President Joe Biden, standing firm in his decision to finish the withdrawal of U.S. forces that began under Donald Trump.

“I was the fourth president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan – two Republicans, two Democrats,” he said. “I would not, and will not, pass this war onto a fifth.”

In Kabul, long lines form outside the international airport. Afghans seeking to flee push carts loaded with carpets, televisions and mementos as they waited hours to enter the terminal.

On normal days, Afghans in business suits and traditional dress mingle beside tattooed military contractors in wraparound sunglasses and aid workers from across the globe. Now, the panicked masses fill the airport, scrambling to leave.

Farid Ahmad Younusi abandoned his Kandahar contracting firm for a chance to escape. Everything he built, he says, now appeared to be lost, and militants were searching for him.

“Taliban have everything that I worked for over the past 20 years,” he says.

In sight of the airport, the mountains ringing the capital rise in the distance as the walls seem to close in. As Saturday wears on, news arrives of new Taliban wins.

Just south of the capital, Logar province falls. To the north, insurgents take Mihterlam, reportedly without a fight. Members of the Taliban are reported in the Char Asyab district, just 11 kilometers (7 miles) from Kabul.

The city’s fate seems all but sealed.

The Taliban seize Jalalabad, the last major city besides the capital, and a string of victories follows. The capitals of Maidan Wardak, Khost, Kapisa and Parwan provinces, as well as the country’s last government-held border post falls to militants, and Afghan forces at Bagram Air Base, home to a prison housing 5,000 inmates, surrender.

Insurgents had no air force and just days earlier had no major city. They were far outnumbered by Afghan troops, who were trained by the American military, the most well-funded and strongest on the planet. And yet, the impossible is now true: The capital of Kabul and its 5 million residents is theirs.

Helicopters whirr. Smoke rises. The American flag is lowered at the embassy.

Ghani, who hours earlier urged his people not to give up, has now fled himself, his abandoned palace occupied by heavily armed fighters, his name cursed by his own countrymen.

“They tied our hands from behind and sold the country,” says Defense Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi.

In the U.S., Biden’s CIA director cuts short a foreign trip to return to Washington. Others in the administration reject comparisons to the fall of Saigon even as many find the resemblance impossible to ignore. With preparations underway to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that drove the U.S. to war, the top American general warns of a rise in terrorist threats to come.

Whiplash over the sheer speed of Afghanistan’s fall jars those in seats of power.

“You want to believe that trillions of dollars and 20 years of investment adds up to something,” says Sen. Chris Murphy, a Biden ally and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Night falls with Taliban fighters deployed across the capital. Abandoned police posts are claimed. And on nearly empty streets, men carry the black-and-white flag of the Taliban.

Their victory is complete.

Shops, markets, schools remain closed in Kabul amid chaos

Shops, markets and schools remained closed in Kabul as the Taliban overran the Afghan capital leading to widespread chaos across the city.

On Monday a day after the city’s collapse, Taliban members were seen on the streets, but it seemed that they were not enough to maintain law and order as looting took place in some military institutions and stolen military vehicles were plying on the roads, reports Xinhua news agency.

The militant group has warned to deal with an iron hand if anyone commits crimes, including theft.

In the morning, some schools were open due to the ongoing examinations, but were advised to close until the situation gets better.

“I am not sure about my future and the future of my children. No one knows what would happen one hour later, or my children can go to school tomorrow,” a resident, Mohammad Aref, told Xinhua on Monday.

Aref said that his daughter is a student of Law Faculty at a private university but she did not attend her class on Monday fearing the new rulers’ retribution.

Although there is no head of state or government in Afghanistan since the city’s collapse, the Taliban released a short statement on local media asking residents, including government employees, to go to their offices and continue normal work.

However, like many shops and supermarkets in Kabul, several government department offices, banks and schools remained closed on Monday as the Taliban members continued to patrol the city streets either on military vehicles or on foot.

Another resident, Hamayon told Xinhua about his plan of fleeing the country as the outlook seems bleak for Afghanistan and for himself.

“I try to leave the country maybe today, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow or anytime the fortune sides me,” he said.

The 31-year-old man, who served in the national army for nine years, expressed sorrow over the situation.

“Afghanistan with international support has built 350,000-strong Defense and Security forces but all have been dismantled within days,” he said.

“Having security alone is not enough,” said another Kabul resident Sufi Mohammad.

“In addition to ensuring security, the establishment has to provide job opportunity, respect human rights and dignity for the citizens in society,” he said.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani left the country on Sunday night, while the Taliban forces entered the capital of Kabul and took control of the presidential palace.

The Taliban has assured that all the diplomatic missions and foreign citizens in Kabul will face no dangers.

The group’s spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said they are committed to ensuring security in the Afghan capital.

The insurgents are now in control of all the districts of Kabul, Mujahid added.

Another Taliban spokesperson has said the war in Afghanistan is over, and a new power structure will soon be clear.

A night curfew has been imposed in Kabul to prevent violence.