It wasn’t 7:15 a.m. yet, and there was already a long line outside the gates of the police station. Men were bringing complaints and demands for justice to the new Taliban rulers in Afghanistan.
They discovered something new immediately: Taliban fighters, who are now policemen, don’t ask for bribes as police officers under the U.S.-backed government of 20 years.
Hajj Ahmad Khan was one of the many in line at Kabul District 8’s police station. He said, “Before everyone was stealing money.” He said that everyone was stealing from the government offices and villages.
Many Afghans are afraid of the Taliban’s harsh methods, hard-line ideology and severe restrictions on women’s rights. The movement has a reputation for being honest, which is a stark contrast with the corrupt government it overthrew, which was known for its reliance on bribery and embezzlement.
Residents who fear the return of punishments, such as the possibility of chopping off the hands and fingers of thieves, say that some security has been restored to Kabul since August 15, when the Taliban invaded. The previous government had seen gangs of criminals drive most people from the streets at night. Many roads linking cities have been reopened and given permission to travel by international aid agencies.
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There are still dangers. A bomb exploded outside Kabul’s Eid Gah Mosque, killing several civilians. It also targeted Taliban members who were attending a memorial service. The bombing was not carried out by anyone, but the Islamic State rival group took responsibility and increased attacks on the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan.
The Taliban were in power during the 1990s and offered a compromise: they brought stability to Afghanistan, eliminated corruption, and imposed strict Islamic law. This included executions with one bullet to the head and hand amputations. Men were punished by religious police for not attending prayer or trimming their beards.
According to Noor Ahmad Rabbani, head of the Taliban’s anti crime department, 85 Taliban alleged criminals were arrested in the last week. Some of them are accused of petty offenses while others are accused of murder, kidnapping, and robbery.
Taliban claim they will return their former punishments. The question is not whether they will execute them publicly, Mullah Nuruddin Turabi, former justice Minister and current official in charge prisons, told The Associated Press.
Some punishments are already back in use. Four bodies of four men were hanged from cranes in central Herat after they were killed by Taliban while trying to kidnap them. Two occasions, Kabul’s petty thieves were handcuffed with their faces painted and stuffed with stale bread to shame them.
Officials say that gun-toting Taliban have taken up positions in checkpoints throughout Kabul. Gradually, some of them have been given uniforms — the beginnings a new national security force. Many Kabul residents, especially those who grew up with horror stories about Taliban rule, find it frightening to see the fighters roaming the streets, their long hair, traditional dress, and Kalashnikov rifles at their side.
They have not yet provided any relief from corruption. People had to pay bribes to settle their utility bills before the Taliban tookover in August. The Taliban’s advance was made possible by rampant fraud in the military. Despite this overt corruption, the U.S. & Europe poured billions into the government without any oversight.
The Taliban are turning to tribal elders for help in settling disputes, just as they did in the past. A group of elders met in Kabul to resolve a stabbing attack that left minor injuries. The elders ordered that the father of the suspect pay the victim nearly $400 to cover his medical costs.
Muhammed Yousef jawid accepted his sentence.
He said, “It’s faster and it’s much cheaper than it was under previous systems.”
The new commander of District 8’s police station was Zabihullah, an amicable Taliban who said that the Taliban had fought for Islamic laws in Afghanistan for over 20 years. He said, “Now people can be safe under our government.”
Zabihullah is a central Ghazni provincial insurgent who, like many Afghans, goes by one name. This is where they waged some their most bitter battles over the past two decades.
He is 32 years old and said that he didn’t train to be a police officer commander. Most of his education was at a madrassa or religious school. Zabihullah claimed that his years of service in war and his adherence to the Taliban’s interpretation of Islamic law prepared him.
The line outside the gates of the police station was growing longer.
Khan, a sixty-year-old man, had traveled from eastern Khost to seek help from the Taliban in obtaining a loan. Khan said that he supported Taliban punishments such as amputations but not for petty thieves.
He stated that they brought security because they treat Islamic law-abiding criminals.
Fearing repercussions from the public, a school principal came to the police station to complain of parents who have been paying school fees for months.
He stated that he wanted to give Taliban control a chance. He was subject to bribery charges every time he complained to the police about late payments under the previous government.
He said that America had invested a lot of money in Afghanistan but that it was a mafia running the country.
Another complainant, identified only as Dr. Sharif after he returned from Saudi Arabia, where he had been working for many years. While he was not opposed to Taliban-style punishments, he strongly opposed the appointment of Taliban leaders or religious clerics as government officials.
He said, using a term for a Muslim cleric, “We need professionals… we need economist specialists, not just a maulvi with no knowledge about business.”
He was happy to have his complaint heard, even though he did not expect to be paid a bribe by the Taliban police. Police used to demand a bribe in order to enter the station.
He said that the “foolishness of the previous governments” was that they put all the money in their pockets.