Inside a surreal journey from the Pakistani border to Taliban-controlled Kabul

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Muhammad Sajjad/AP
A Taliban fighter stands guard near a border crossing between Pakistan and Afghanistan in the Khyber district on August 21.

The porch doubles as office and bedroom, which is convenient because since becoming the Taliban’s point person sorting problems and authorizing visiting journalists at the border with Pakistan, Supranullah — who like many rural Afghans uses just one name — has been slammed. He has a three-mile back up of heavily laden trucks waiting to leave Afghanistan at the Torkham border crossing.

When we entered into his world, he was scribbling details relayed by an armed underling into a notebook. Clad in camouflage fatigues, the commander was barefoot despite the rain, working at a low table and sitting on his kot, the traditional daybed.

“Who do you know in Kabul?” he asked. “Zabihullah Mujahid,” we replied, naming the Taliban spokesman. A young, gun-toting Taliban member quipped, “That’s the right answer.”

We handed crumbling outposts, the sprawling Jalalabad airstrip, and a number of other former US bases. I’d flown Black Hawk helicopter missions out and in of a few of these bases on embeds with US forces, even seen a US Afghan drone take off in Jalalabad. Now surveying the deserted huts and communications towers, it was as if I’d stepped again in time earlier than the al Qaeda assaults on September 11, 2001, that prompted America’s decades-long struggle right here.

The fight with the Americans is still fresh in many Taliban members’ minds, yet even in victory some like Commander Supranullah and his men seemed ready to reengage, albeit with an underlying distrust.

The highway to Kabul

You can really feel the billions of American {dollars} spent right here within the roads themselves. Compared to earlier than US forces first arrived in late 2001, the 230-kilometer (140-mile) journey from the border to Kabul ought to have been a breeze — easy tarmac all the way in which. Without hurdles, the drive might have taken 5 hours.

Compared to yesteryear, it is a nation nonetheless bustling with chaotic appeal regardless of the financial uncertainty it faces. We drove by means of bazaars listening to sellers making an attempt to out shout each other, hawking freshly grilled corn, fried fish, sweets, grapes, pomegranates, and scrumptious lengthy flatbreads sizzling from open-topped ovens.

It wasn’t sufficient. Within minutes, we had been being whisked away, he stated for additional questioning. As they had been driving us out of city at velocity it appeared much less clear who they had been and the place we had been being taken. The challenge was resolved pretty shortly by calls to Taliban HQ in Kabul. But what is evident is that weeks after the militants taking energy, the safety scenario underneath the Taliban continues to be very fluid.

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