Kabul, Afghanistan -In the early hours of Tuesday morning, shotguns filled the air above cities in Afghanistan, while the Taliban celebrated the final withdrawal of foreign forces after a 20-year occupation of the country by the US.
Just after midnight local time, the U.S. Central Commander-in-Chief, General Kenneth McKenzie, declared, “Every American member of the U.S. service is now from Afghanistan.”
With those ten words, McKenzie officially put an end to Washington’s longest foreign invasion ever. When the last US military plane took off from Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport, the Taliban looked on with triumph.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid took to Twitter to write, “The last American occupier withdrew … at 12 o’clock and our country gained its full independence, praise and thanks to God.”
Members of the group spent the rest of the early hours of Tuesday in an ecstatic state of festive season, shooting round after round in the pitch-black sky. They defeated the foreign forces that had been hunting them for 19 years.
By sunrise, however, it became clear to the Afghan people that the dawn had brought an uncertain future. After two decades of foreign occupation, the country, which is currently led by the Taliban, will face the Islamic State’s security threat in Khorasan province, ISKP (ISIS-K), an armed group, and possible economic insolvency. , without indication of foreign aid.
Although everyone with whom Al Jazeera spoke in Kabul and Kandahar was happy to see an end to the war, many feared the immediate future, with the economy as the most urgent matter.
While the Taliban were in a festive mood, many Kabulis spent Tuesday in the way they had spent the past week, waiting for hours in line outside banks, desperate to withdraw cash from automatic teller machines, many of which were turned off.
Omid, 26, said Afghans were more concerned about the absence of foreign forces if they could put food on the table in the coming days. He pointed to a line that stretched hundreds of meters outside the branch of Azizi Bank near the Presidential Palace as proof of that real fear.
“They are all here to buy flour and feed their families, but for every 100 people who come in, 2,000 others will go home empty-handed.
He knows, like so many others in the queue, that the lack of cash in Afghanistan’s financial institutions is the result of decisions taken by international bodies. The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the US Federal Reserve and Western Union all abruptly severed ties with Afghanistan after the Taliban took control of the capital in mid-August. According to the World Bank, foreign aid accounts for about 40 percent of Afghanistan’s GDP.
Omid’s concern is repeated by Afghans across the country, who say their biggest fear at the moment is poverty. The Afghans with whom Al Jazeera spoke said it was extremely important that foreign countries and international organizations start liaising with the Taliban.
Omid, now in his final year of medical school, was only five when the American invasion began. He says he could not have imagined that the foreigners would ever leave Afghanistan. But now that the Taliban has taken over, he says he will somehow find a way to leave Afghanistan.
“I will go. I have no other option,” he said, but with Kabul airport in disarray and most embassies evacuated, it will not be easy to get out.
Earlier in the morning, dozens of men and women lined up along the street leading to the embassies of Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, where the Taliban stood guard, trying to communicate to the people that the few embassies that still open, very strict is who they see.
Despite the difficulties, Omid is determined to try to escape from Afghanistan in any way.
“They gave us pens and taught us about freedom, and then just as quickly they took everything away,” he said, referring to the February 2020 agreement between the US and the Taliban that paved the way for US withdrawal.
Mansour, a money changer who works on a street corner near three banks and rows of clothes and electronics stores, said he supports the Islamic Emirate, as the Taliban calls the administration he has yet to form, but he does not have much confidence that things will improve soon.
“Afghanistan is the only country in the world where things are deteriorating,” the 20-year-old told Al Jazeera.
“They have made all these promises, but they are leaving Afghanistan just like when they came under Taliban control,” he said. ‘Apart from these new buildings and tall buildings, it is the same city as when the unbelievers arrived.
Although Afghans have often complained about the fraud, corruption and nepotism plagued by governments led by Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani, some young people fear that the way of life they once knew may be gone.
Massoud (33) runs a shoe store in one of the most important commercial districts in Kabul. Late Tuesday morning, while another young man praised the Islamic Emirate and said that the people in Afghanistan should embrace them now, Massoud shook his head.
Wearing a blue baseball cap, a gray t-shirt and blue jeans, Massoud clearly distinguished himself from most other men on the streets of Kabul. Since the group took over on August 15, most men have appeared in public with the traditional piran tomban over jeans, t-shirts and tracksuits.
“The former governments were full of corrupt thieves, but now we have no freedoms,” he said from his empty shop. Although he mainly sold shoes and slippers, Massoud said he had already been threatened by the Taliban for the way he dressed and what his shop was supposed to represent culturally.
“They told me I would not be able to continue for that long,” he said.
Habib Faizi, a civil engineer in Kandahar, expressed similar fears: “Today is the day that life in Afghanistan came to an end,” he said. Faizi feared that the Taliban would not be able to lead a government. Most importantly, he feared an impending ‘economic crisis’. He said such a crisis would only increase crime and insecurity, two things the Taliban have always claimed to reduce in areas under their control.
Faizi said he blamed US President Joe Biden for the situation in the country.
‘I’m really mad at the US government and Biden. “He should never have handed over the fate of millions of Afghans and the democracy they have created to the Taliban,” he said.
But amid the uncertainty, there are some people who support the Taliban in Kabul and other cities.
Karimullah Safi, 35, said the Afghan people should not only be happy, but also proud that they were able to dismantle the only remaining superpower in the world after 20 years of bitter war. Safi said he understands the fears of his peers, but that they should take to the streets and see the situation for themselves.
“Of course people are scared, where else in the world does a government fall overnight and the group they have been fighting for 20 years immediately takes over,” he said. Safi said the media’s portrayal of the Taliban over the past two decades had only exacerbated people’s fears.
“People need to come out and see these people with their own eyes, just like us.”
Safi said people’s concerns could only be allayed if they made an effort to return to normal life, something that would also force them to enter into talks with the Taliban.
‘Look, they fought for 20 years, but since they took over, the war has stopped, the violence has ended. “Things are slowly returning to normal,” he said.
Khan Mohammad, a pharmacist in the city of Kandahar, said that August 31 will be a favorable day, not only for Afghans but also for Muslims all over the world.
“The United States and its supporters have destroyed the ideology of our people,” Mohammad said. Like other Afghans with whom Al Jazeera spoke in Kabul and Kandahar, Mohammad was particularly critical of the lack of transparency in the governments led by Karzai and Ghani.
“They have made us one of the most corrupt nations in the world,” he said, reflecting a popular sentiment among Afghans.
He expressed special anger over the confidence of the foreign coalition and the government of Kabul in raids on people’s homes and airstrikes, both of which are known as civilian casualties.
Abdul Matin Amiri reported from Kandahar.