Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Taleban Driven Out of Kabul

Kabul has fallen. Northern Alliance troops have entered the city amid scenes of jubilation at the end of oppressive Taleban rule.
By Tim Judah

The last Taleban defenders of Kabul were two Pakistanis and three Arabs. Their bodies lay where they were gunned down in the middle of a main road into the city.


Not far away, on Khair Khara Kotal hill, hundreds of Northern Alliance troops were backed up awaiting orders. There were tanks and two armored personnel carriers drawn up across the road.


"You can't go any further," said a commander. Kabul lay just beyond our grasp, literally behind a bend in the road.


Suddenly a yellow taxi appeared, then another. Now men were strolling up the hill. They were embracing - they were walking out of the city and greeting soldiers and friends at the top of the hill.


We began to walk down the hill. Smiling, laughing faces greeted us. "Welcome to Kabul city!" shouted a man, and around a corner, glowing in early morning sun, lay the Afghan capital, abandoned by the Taleban on Monday night.


Large groups of people gathered to discuss the news. Crowds also milled around the bodies of the few Taleban that did not make it out.


People out on the street said five dead Pakistanis lay in a ditch in Sharainow Park. One had his ID photo stuffed in his mouth, a second had a rolled bank note sticking out of his nose, and another had a bank note slotted into his shattered skull. Just over a km away, the charred remains of a group of Arabs lay on the pavement while onlookers poked and kicked them. Beyond these corpses I did not see or hear of more.


By now looting had begun. People could be seen dragging furniture from buildings, but the power vacuum in the city did not last long.


At police stations across the city, Northern Alliance troops and security men dressed in gray uniforms quickly seized control. Within hours, troops were at all the main intersections and fanning out across the capital.


At government buildings, triumphant opposition soldiers secured the premises and, in some cases, were happy to show visitors around.


The offices of the Ministry of Vice and Virtue were locked but opened for journalists. The minister in charge of this feared and loathed department had ruled with a rod of iron from the Taleban headquarters at Khandahar. His deputy, Salim Haquani, administered his policies in Kabul from a prim and demure office, with little more decoration than an Islamic calendar plus a pencil sharpener and a roll of cellotape on his desk.


Some buildings had no security, or at least the guards were not going to stand in the way of an angry mob.


The Pakistani embassy and residence were looted at dawn, books and papers scattered over the buildings. Pakistan is widely regarded as having been the main sponsor of the Taleban.


As the day wore on, truckloads of Northern Alliance troops poured into the city. Some cars of armed men not in uniform could also be seen driving around. Some shooting could be heard in the city but by the afternoon it had died down completely.


Yonus Quanuni, the powerful Northern Alliance interior minister, was directing operations from the Taleban's former ministry of defense. Over the last few days, he has said his troops would not move into Kabul. Asked why they were here now, he said that they were in fact "security personnel" not soldiers and there had not been enough uniforms for them.


The troops themselves, when asked, all happily gave the names of their commanders, all of them from the military.


Across the city, the takeover was greeted with a mixture of jubilation and apprehension. There was joy that the hated rule of the Taleban was over but anxiety for the future.


"This is the busiest day of my life," said Parawana, a barber who was busy shaving and trimming beards, which the Taleban had insisted on. Azib, a 12-year-old boy, was on the street with a kite. "I just made it," he said. Kite flying was banned by the Islamists.


Ruhina, a nine-year-old girl, said, "I want to go to school." Education for women had also been outlawed.


Feridoun, a 22-year-old computer operator, best exemplified the anxiety that is now felt here. "For a time it will be calm, but if we can't agree a new government then there will be fighting again!" he said.


The people of Kabul well remember the destruction wrought on this city after 1992 when the mujahedin took over following the collapse of the then Russian-backed government.


Perhaps uncertain, then, of what the day would bring most shops remain firmly shuttered and bolted.


As to the future, people crowded around any foreigner and said that after 22 years of war all they want is peace and reconciliation.


With the Northern Alliance now firmly in control in Kabul and the Taleban collapse apparently continuing, the chances of a "broad-based" transitional government now being formed may well be receding. The Northern Alliance holds the trump card now.


Tim Judah, author of Kosovo: War and Revenge (Yale University Press), is a regular IWPR contributor.