“Welcome to Kabul,” greets a smiling official at passport control. It does not matter that the visa was issued by a consulate that continues to fly the flag of the Republic of Afghanistan and that does not maintain contact with the Islamic Emirate proclaimed by the Taliban after its arrival in power last summer. The modest terminal of the international airport receives the few travelers who these days arrive in the country with special care. The new rulers want to give a good image to support their demand for recognition.
In fact, except for the armed guards who guard the compound, the Taliban are hardly visible. Most of the agents, such as the porters who offer to collect luggage on the conveyor belt, are the same ones they were in practice before the sudden change of regime last summer. They kindly invite foreigners to fill out an arrival form, although once the procedure is completed they ask that the traveler keep it “so that they do not have problems when leaving.” The requirement, once the passport is stamped, seems like a pretext to request a tip. “Since the Taliban are here, we do not collect our salary,” justifies one of them.
It is a complaint that is repeated in all administrations. In the absence of funds, the Taliban have prioritized paying their militiamen and most public employees have only received one monthly payment since August. Even so, those who have returned to work continue to come every day in the hope of receiving the arrears soon.
In need of administrative support to run the country, the fundamentalists have asked male officials to return to their posts, especially at the intermediate and basic levels. The result seems uneven: in the room that serves as the accreditation office for journalists in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, only three of the twenty jobs are occupied. There are no long beards here either. The fundamentalists are in the upper-floor offices where, according to one employee, “the salaries are higher.”
In addition, there are Taliban at the entrance to the ministerial compound. Another place where the attempt to make a good impression is evident. The militiaman in charge of clearing the entrance, after a brief check, smiles at the foreigner and even makes an effort to greet her in English. Inside, the accreditation procedures are not cumbersome. The experiences of Afghans, and especially Afghans, to apply for a passport or other document are another story, according to several sources.
The city has regained a semblance of normalcy. The queues in front of the banks that were seen a couple of months ago have disappeared. Nor are the thousands of internally displaced people who were concentrated in the parks, apparently forwarded to their places of origin by buses by the new authorities. Men and women stroll through the center, buy fruit at the stalls and even share a table in cafes and restaurants where few customers pay attention to the separation of the sexes that the Taliban try to generalize.
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When we go out on the street again, the contrast is brutal. Not only because of the low temperatures that already announce winter, but also because of the army of beggars that approaches the parishioners. Children, the elderly, the disabled and even some woman who hides the shame of asking under the burqa they beg for help to eat. They are the faces, with names, surnames and painful personal stories, of the poverty figures with which the UN tries to attract the attention of the world. 95% of the 39 million Afghans no longer have enough for a decent diet, 23 million are on the brink of famine (including three million children under the age of five) and there are still 3.5 million internally displaced persons who will pass the cold season under precarious tents and without sufficient shelter.
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