The five Taliban flags outside the terminal at Hamid Karzai International Airport warn arriving passengers that Afghanistan is under new ownership.
Crisp white banners replaced the black, red and green national flag of Afghanistan in government departments, police stations and military posts in the capital.
They fly from the front wings of Taliban vans that roam the streets of Kabul with gunmen seated in the back.
Children sell portable versions outside the empty U.S. Embassy compound. Schools have been ordered to post them.
Inside the safe houses of Kabul where Afghans wait to be evacuated to Canada
Kabul is renamed by the Taliban, who want to make sure no one can forget who is in charge now. The country is no longer a republic, it is the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
But exactly what that means beyond a change of flag colors has a lot in Kabul on the alert and planning their escape to countries like Canada.
“We respect Sharia law here,” said Rahman Mansour, sitting in his office at a Kabul police station, where he was the Taliban’s new deputy commander.
He said the Taliban would enforce existing laws that comply with Sharia law, but not those deemed to be contrary to it.
A Taliban flag sat on his desk, along with his radios and two cell phones. Another hung from a stand on the floor and a large one covered the wall. Yet another could be seen through the window behind him.
Among the matters dealt with by police that day was a grenade attack at a Taliban checkpoint. Asked about this, a Mansour staff member released a cellphone video of a man admitting to being paid to do so.
But Mansour insisted security was better than under the previous government, which he accused of failing to tackle corruption, kidnappings and drugs – although the killings of nearly 100 people during the recent bombings of Shiite mosques in Kunduz and Kandahar suggested that this was still a serious problem.
According to Mansour, the current version of the Taliban was different. He was more politically savvy and had a stronger army than last time. But he said his underlying ideology remained the same: Sharia law.
“A Muslim will never change his ideology,” he added.
At another district police station, Taliban official Qari Skakir said criminals were brought to Islamic courts, which punished them in accordance with Sharia law.
When asked if these punishments included public executions, which took place during the Taliban’s last reign, he replied, “That’s a question I cannot answer.
By covering Kabul with its flags, the Taliban are cleaning the city of the symbols of Afghanistan that they want everyone to forget.
At Massoud Circle, a monument dedicated to the anti-Taliban fighter Ahmad Shah Massoud, assassinated by Al-Qaeda, the portraits of the man he honored were torn off.
On a recent afternoon, members of the Taliban posed for photos there alongside the Taliban flags which now sound at the memorial. One of them said he had fought American forces and would do it again if they returned.
He said he only wanted “freedom and peace,” and insisted that no one should fear the Taliban. “People are really good to us and we are good to them,” he said.
In the downtown market district, where vendors sell everything from grenades to used shoes, traffic was blocked. The drivers paid no attention to the traffic cop in the white cap.
Residents interviewed on the sidewalk hailed the Taliban, saying they had made the city safer, but the message changed after the TV camera was turned off.
” We have to say that we are happy, ”explained one man.
Another spoke optimistically about the new Taliban government. But later, he said he worked for the Afghan army and asked for help to flee the country.
Hopes dashed by the return of the Taliban, the women of Kabul see no future in Afghanistan
A young man from Shahr-e Naw Park, now a tent city for Afghans who have come to Kabul to escape fighting in other parts of the country, watched the Taliban official in charge of the area walk away before taking a journalist aside to discuss his »situation. “
He said he worked at the presidential palace. He had heard that Canada was accepting 40,000 Afghan refugees and he wanted to know how to apply. A gunshot rang out nearby.
“You see our situation,” he said.
Honing their horns and speeding up the traffic of trucks carrying fighters from the provinces, the Taliban in Kabul sometimes look like what they claim to have conquered: the occupiers.
At a restaurant in Kabul, an armed Taliban entered with four young people and sat at the end of a table with his rifle resting on his knees.
He played with his phone. The waiters looked nervous. They put a whining Taliban song on the stereo. Better to appease the new masters of the city.
“We plan to make Afghanistan a fresh flower, to rebuild it again according to the rules of the Sharia,” said another Taliban as he sat on a bench in Wazir Akbar Khan Park.
Once a popular place to fly kites, picnic in rose gardens, and cool off in the pool, the hilltop retreat overlooking Kabul is now a Taliban post, and the large Afghan flag that once flew on the martyrs memorial has disappeared.
The thick-bearded fighter said he participated in the “jihad against the invaders” and praised God for allowing the Taliban to return to power.
Those who have committed “crimes in the past” should answer in court, he said, but otherwise no one should care about the Taliban.
“They don’t have to worry about it,” he said.
“Don’t worry, no problem” might as well be imprinted on the Taliban flag. This is the theme the Taliban keep reciting as they seek to be recognized as the legitimate government of Afghanistan.
Don’t worry about the women; do not worry about the settling of scores against the Afghans who supported the international forces; don’t worry about Al Qaeda; don’t worry about the Taliban’s long history of misogyny and violence.
Meanwhile, the Taliban claim their bad image is the result of “media propaganda.”
In his office on the fourth floor of the Information Ministry, official Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid sat down with a plate of apples and told reporters they had seven minutes of his time.
He said the Taliban “acted and ruled according to Sharia” to “build an Islamic government after having fought for many years with the invaders.”
“It is not a precise definition of us if they say we are a terrorist regime,” he said, in response to Canada’s designation of the Taliban as a terrorist group.
“Twenty years have proven that the Taliban are fighting for the homeland and for freedom,” he said. “Either way, it’s a new season, Canada should behave responsibly.
Lying on floor cushions in a Kabul house, munching on a bowl of nuts, another Taliban official who did not want to be identified insisted things would be different this time around.
The lights went out. There had been an explosion on the power grid, although it was not clear whether it was another bombing.
He said the Taliban wanted women to work – provided they were covered. He vowed that Al Qaeda would be dismantled and that there would be no retaliation against Afghans who had worked for foreign servicemen.
“It’s a new emirate,” he said.
And then he asked if he could claim refugee status in Canada.