Postimees reporter Jaanus Piirsalu and photographer Erik Prozes spent ten days in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Piirsalu, who just arrived back in Estonia, says that the people tend to support the Taliban because the previous authority was wholly corrupt and conflicts and crime have stopped.
Piirsalu: Taliban has gained in popularity
You were accompanied by an interpreter and a security guard or guards. How many where there?
No. Our interpreter, driver and security guard was usually the same person.
They did have a gun, however?
No, they did not have a gun.
You wrote that you and Erik never felt afraid. How is that possible?
I have grown a thick skin after visiting many such places. My defenses are usually dormant when there is no exchange of fire or shelling. The capital Kabul is relatively safe. Getting in trouble is quite unlikely unless you seek to pick a fight with a Taliban fighter.
What was the most precarious moment?
Definitely taking a national airline flight. (Smiles) The aircraft are not something one would like to fly in on a daily basis. Their Boeings are extremely rundown.
How are the Taliban keeping the peace? Do thieves get their hands lopped off?
Everyone we met told us that crime has effectively been dealt with. People can leave their doors unlocked when leaving home in smaller towns. Even the residents of Kabul said that crime is very low. The Taliban has sorted things out after just one week. From what I gathered, criminals caught in the act are brutally beaten before being taken in front of a Sharia court.
The locals describe the Talibs as uneducated men from the mountains. How are they managing to run a country?
The people who form the government are mullahs or people who have graduated from religious schools. Their main education is knowing the Quran and Arabic. Most have not received a classical education. However, the leaders include quite a few people educated in the West, unlike in the case of the previous Taliban regime. But the vast majority of them sport a religious education, which is why it is highly doubtful they are capable of running the country. They simply do not have the know-how. I believe they will be forced to hire specialists at some point.
To what extent do the locals support the Taliban?
I do not think the common folk mind them. Even women’s activists we spoke to in Kabul and who have no reason to love the Taliban claimed that their popularity has grown since they took over. The sudden spike in poverty is rather associated with the fact the rest of the world is not allowing them to live under the Taliban. Secondly, the Taliban has put an end to corruption that is having a positive effect on their popularity. The previous authority was unpopular because of massive corruption. The average Afghan hated the government more because of corruption than security concerns.
While Afghanistan is suffering from terrible poverty and unemployment, deaths have largely been avoided. Is that how the locals perceive the situation?
The humanitarian disaster is, of course, very serious. Weighing security against income, many said the former matters more. People can be sure they will arrive home safely at night and that there will not be bombings.
Did you feel tempted to help, seeing all that poverty and misery?
I have seen a lot of poverty and wretchedness in different parts of the world. I try to leave emotion out of it. When we visited a family that shared their house with a cow, I felt a pang of something. But it is impossible to help. If I gave someone $10 there, the entire village would come running and we would not be able to leave. How do you choose who to help? But that is just my opinion.
Are there beggars or have the Taliban banned the practice?
Begging is very popular in Afghanistan. Every child who sees a foreigners comes up to ask for money. Women, children and people with disabilities are often beggars. If you give a child just a single coin, others will come running from every direction and will keep following you.
What about the coronavirus situation? Is their hardship such as to overshadow fear of the virus?
People wore masks. It is unlikely anyone would turn to the hospital with a cade of COVID-19. People need to bring their own medicines anyway. They probably either recover at home or die of it. Every disease is a case of natural selection there – a truly stark reality.