Life in Afghanistan: A peek at what it’s like for the average citizen after the Taliban takeover and it might not be what you think.
· · Sep 2, 2021 ·

I had the opportunity to briefly discuss what's going on in Kabul with a woman whose Afghan husband is there. It's always useful I think to step away from the relentless, if entirely understandable, focus on Taliban soldiers parading through the streets with American equipment, the utter humiliation in the manner in which the American withdrawal took place, and the genuine tragedy of what awaits those left behind who had close ties to the Americans and the former government.

For perspective, over four million people live in Kabul. Very few of them are interpreters for the US military, very few are Christians, very few are woman's rights leaders, and very few are transgender activists. Yes, those people are in genuine peril (along with US citizens!), but we're talking about a large and fairly modern city largely made up of people who aren't them.

Kabul on the whole is not a scene of widespread destruction and mayhem as you might expect if all you do is watch the news or follow social media. I mean, yeah, there's destruction and mayhem, but you can say the same thing about Seattle most weekend nights.

For starters, communications are working just fine. She speaks or texts with him frequently.

In fact, general services are still being provided. I asked, and the power is on, shops are open, food is readily available for purchase.

This should not be too surprising when you consider there wasn't an actual fight, so there were no transmission lines cut, no power plants targeted, no bridges blown up. At worst, some M16 rifles got scuffed up when Afghan soldiers hastily dropped them in a panic as they ran away.

Overall, I was struck with how utterly casual the woman was in my discussion. "It's not a big deal," she pointed out. Yes, the airport is closed (he had a ticket for this week, but, um, yeah, no). She pointed out he was staying with family there. (He had come to the United States as a teenager with his mother about 15 years ago, and has gone back frequently since.)

She notes that while women will face some restrictions going forward, the fact that her husband is a man (probably not a distinction that will have to be made going forward) means he's "fine." He's got dual passports with the United States and Afghanistan (he remains a citizen as I understand it) and so once the airport opens, he should be able to find flights to Pakistan, India, or wherever Ariana Afghan Airlines will be flying to.

I did not make that up, Ariana is a real thing.

Alas, I confirmed. There really are no flights "within this date range."

Keep in mind that Kabul has 4 million citizens, the vast majority of which just want to get on with their lives. Will Taliban rule be much more restrictive? Of course, but this is Afghanistan, there is no centuries-long culture of enlightenment, no tradition of Jeffersonian Democracy, it is a culture and a people who will largely be able to live with the Taliban, have families, and enjoy Friday nights watching a spirited game of buzkashi.

We stayed to install and then maintain a government no one really wanted or for which anyone had any respect while heavily arming a largely indifferent military with billions in sophisticated weapons and equipment.


We all know why we went there in the first place, but why on earth did we stay? In whose interest was that?

It wasn't mine. It probably wasn't yours.

Getting out (as a general concept) made sense (I won't quibble over when, but many years before now, certainly). In fact, it was an inevitability. Afghanistan was never going to be Japan, Germany, or South Korea. We knew that a long time ago.

The powers that be (take your pick, military leadership, defense industry, shadowy billionaires) want you to believe that life in Afghanistan will be utter hell under the Taliban. I will readily concede that it won't be South Dakota, but it never was going to be, and I would argue most parts of the world could, by that standard, be described in similar terms.

It most certainly will be bad, if not tragic, for many, and the United States bears an awful lot of responsibility for that, but you can't force a country or a culture to be something it's not prepared to be. Germans and Italians were certainly ready after World War II as was Japan. It can be done, but it can't be forced. Capitulation can be forced, defeat can be forced, but you can not force a people to embrace something the vast majority of which find to be alien.

The New York Times did some good reporting last week, noting that there have been disruptions, particularly a shortage of cash with banks closed (more to come, I'm sure, despite my friend's optimistic outlook), but they also found this:

Others had positive things to say about the arrival of the Taliban, in contrast to their U.S.-backed Afghan predecessors, widely despised for their corruption.

The Afghan government has been widely despised for its corruption from the beginning. The people hated their government. Why would they risk their lives for it?

In the Company neighborhood on the western edge of Kabul, even though gas has been getting harder to find, road traffic and business was nearly back to normal.

Truck and bus drivers said that Afghanistan's highways had become more secure now that the Taliban had consolidated control over the country. Drivers praised the removal of dozens of checkpoints where security forces and militias had previously extorted bribes — replaced with a single toll payment to the Taliban.

And the real kicker:

"We're happy with the Islamic Emirate," said Ruhullah, 34, a resident of Wardak Province who drives a passenger bus along the main highway from Herat to Kabul. "With the Taliban's arrival, our problems have been solved. There's no more police harassment and bribery."

These are men, of course, things will likely be much worse for women, although even that remains unclear.

In central areas with many Taliban, women were few and those venturing out wore burqas, the full-body garment that covers the face, said Sayed, a civil servant.

But elsewhere in the city, with a light Taliban presence, women were going out "with normal clothes as it was before the Taliban," said Shabaka, adding that she herself had walked outside and met Taliban without incident despite wearing her "usual clothes."

That might change. We'll see.

To that end, life under the Taliban will not be anything like we'd want to experience, and surely not anything like many Afghans would have preferred, particularly women.

But if that many Afghans truly cared — if the culture, the majority of people, had largely embraced the ideas of self-determination, secularism, liberty, and democracy as we understand those terms — the well-equipped, 300,000-man Afghan army, even absent air support (the Taliban had none), would have held easily.

It didn't.

There are many lessons to be learned (many learned again even) but perhaps we should reflect on an old saying. The origin of it is in some dispute, but I'll go with the quote as it appears in Edgar Allen Poe's short story, "The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether":

Believe nothing you hear, and only one half that you see.

This goes doubly, no triply, whenever anyone suggests we do anything like Afghanistan again.

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