Arghandab (Afghanistan) (AFP)
As the setting sun colors the Arghandab River purple, seven young Taliban circle the shore, singing and dancing in traditional Afghan style.
The scene would have been unimaginable 20 years ago, when the die-hard Islamist group was the first in power and banned music outright.
And just a few months ago, the riverbed was the scene of bloody clashes between the Taliban and government forces – the concrete bridge the men dance under is split in two, destroyed in the fighting.
But now a choir rises from the rocky shore, as they move from side to side, clapping their hands and chanting the words to an Afghan patriotic song: “Send me a hello from Kabul.” … I miss you a lot. “
When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, all entertainment, including song and dance, was prohibited.
But these young Taliban listen to music, although most of them are religious.
Since the group returned to power in mid-August, even its leaders seem to have relaxed slightly on the subject, at least in the big cities, where people aren’t punished for listening to music.
Young Taliban under the bridge came here to relax before returning to Kandahar, the group’s spiritual birthplace, just 10 kilometers (six miles) away.
Although the origin of their song is unclear, it celebrates national unity in a country torn by ethnic and tribal divisions.
“This song belongs to us, it belongs to our country,” says Hafiz Mudasir, a dancer in his twenties.
– “We had a plan” –
Like his companions, he is tall, slim and bearded – and still full of enthusiasm for his group’s victory after two decades of struggle against the occupation led by the United States and the former government.
“Twenty years ago, American troops came, but we had a plan,” he says.
Taliban fighters captured Kabul on August 15 following a flash offensive launched in May as the United States and NATO began their final withdrawal.
They promised some more moderate form of rule this time around – although they made it clear that they would rule Afghanistan within the restrictive limits of their interpretation of Sharia law.
“We’re not doing anything wrong. It is our enemies who spread rumors that we are killing people, ”Hafiz said.
But many in Afghanistan are suspicious and fear a return to the harsh regime of the 1990s.
– ‘The price you pay’ –
As the sun disappears below the horizon, the dancers are joined by around 20 other Taliban members.
They spread rugs on the pebbles on the bank and begin to pray in the fading light.
Bread and melons await them when they are finished.
At nightfall, a line of vehicles passes at the foot of the bridge, wading through the river bed to reach the other side.
They could use the bridge until last December, when the Taliban, seeking to isolate Kandahar, detonated a vehicle loaded with explosives there.
The bridge collapsed in the middle, leaving a 10-meter-wide hole with government forces on one side and the Taliban on the other.
A police station on the Taliban side was attacked by the militants, who sent suicide bombers to kill the police trapped there.
But this attack – like many others that have seen civilians killed – does not seem to move Hafiz’s conscience.
He told AFP that such violence is the price the Taliban has to pay for “spreading Islam in the region”.
And if an innocent person is killed, “he can thank God, for it is good to die as a martyr”.
© 2021 AFP