Taliban members attend a ceremony at the Governor's office after being released by authorities, in Herat, Afghanistan, 26 May 2020. EFE-EPA/FILE/JALIL REZAYEE

2 Years In Power: Contrasting luxury for high-ranking Taliban, misery for others

Kabul, Aug 14 (EFE).- The transition of the Taliban from an insurgent group hiding in the mountains to running urban administrations marks a contrasting modus vivendi for high and low-ranking ex-fighters after two years of the Islamists in power.

Taliban members stand in front of a portrait of the then-Afghan President Ashraf Ghani as they attend a ceremony at the Governor's office after being released by authorities, in Herat, Afghanistan, 26 May 2020. EFE-EPA/FILE/JALIL REZAYEE

While high-ranking officials enjoy luxurious lifestyles with lavish homes, cars, and amenities, along with multiple wives, the story is different for lower-ranked Taliban members.

A Taliban prisoner looks on during his release from Bagram prison in Parwan province, Afghanistan, 26 May 2020. EFE-EPA/FILE/STR

As the Taliban stormed into power on Aug. 15, 2021, their members faced challenges adapting to the demands of office life and a civilized environment.

In its initial days, the Taliban ran the government machinery by retaining technical personnel from the previous government even as they confronted ideological resistance from ex-staff.

The Islamist ex-combatants embarked on a learning curve of governance and offered its members opportunities to acquire administrative skills.

But the transition from insurgency to governance came with contrasting living conditions for the Taliban haves and have-nots.

For those down in the ranks, government responsibilities brought about massive pressure and challenges.

For many Taliban members, a settled life meant taking on family responsibilities.

The movement previously covered their family needs, but the new reality came with a demand for financial support.

And for the higher-ups, the shift brought luxury and expansive lifestyles, as they occupied the homes of former government officials and ministers, a middle-ranked Taliban member told EFE anonymously.

The high-ranking Taliban officials also got chances to travel and host parties, sometimes at places previously targeted by their fighters.

Taliban official Qari Rahmatullah Gulzad told EFE he wanted to raise a family. “My wife was not able to bear a child as she got old. Therefore I married again, and thank god, I have hope for a child now.”

High-ranked Taliban official Haji Agha was enjoying with his friends and bodyguards at the Spogmai restaurant in the Qargha area of Kabul province.

The eatery was targeted by the Taliban in 2012, killing 20 people. Spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid then famously said they would target all such places where foreigners eat.

Now flanked by his friends, Haji Agha praised the place.

“This (restaurant) is a nice place, with a beautiful view, and some delicious food.”

The issue of polygamy by Taliban officials stirred controversy as their members and the Afghans, in general, objected to the extravaganza.

But the officials offered various justifications, citing the need for positive change and happiness after years of war and deprivation.

“We are prohibited from other ways and the Sharia has given us this option (of having multiple wives,” said Mawlawi Ahmad Ikhlas.

However, critics say such lifestyle evidenced corruption, particularly given the dire economic circumstances faced by the majority of the population in a country ravaged by decades of debilitating conflict.

Social activist Habibullah Taqwa told EFE that 95 percent of the Afghan population did not have adequate food to eat, and such a lavish lifestyle in a short period was “evidence of corruption.”

Many ex-fighters, accustomed to a life of combatants, now find themselves battling the mundane bureaucracy and official rules.

Haji Akhtar, 38, a former guerrilla, who spent several years of his youthful life-fighting in the rugged terrain, spoke of his shift from wartime freedom to the constraints of governance.

“At the time of jihad, it was a very simple life. All we had to do was to plan ambushes,” Akhtar, now an interior ministry official, told EFE.

The switchover required adjusting to a new way of life, albeit slowly.

“It is a very wearisome life, coming every morning and staying for more than nine hours for a little work, actually no work,” Akhtar said.

Civilian life also exposed Taliban members to a society more complex than they had thought during their wartime days.

They had preconceived notions of cities, which they thought were bastions of unIslamic activities.

But seminaries, mosques, and people following Islamic Sharia in urban centers shattered the notions – brick by brick.

“We were told that activities are against the Sharia, especially in cities,” ex-fighter Qari Zahid, 28, now a government employee, told EFE.

Some even regretted the devastation they caused during their battles against the former Western-backed government.

One example was the Kabul-Kandahar road, once vulnerable to Taliban-planted explosives, now the only route connecting the two cities.

The transformation was equally challenging for those tasked with maintaining security, as former ambushers and snipers find their current lives starkly contrasting with their previous thrills.

“We used to be free most of the time (in our previous role), but now I spend the entire day under the hot sun on the streets checking cars and handling traffic six days a week,” said Zabiullah Sarubiwal, 25, a security member at a Kabul checkpoint.

Controlling protests by women and girls, an unfamiliar experience, poses a separate challenge for the Taliban security forces.

“If we hit them, it’s not good but if we do not, the protesters will create problems,” Raza Khan, a Taliban security member, told EFE.

Khan recalled how he dispersed a demonstration using water.

“A woman was drenched and she dropped on the road. I wished I could return to our jihad days to see no such harsh action against women.” EFE