When they seized Kabul and returned to power in Afghanistan in August, the Taliban pledged their rule would be more moderate than the draconian interpretation of Islamic law they imposed on most of the country during the 1990s.
But since then, the Taliban have resumed public executions, banned girls from school and sports, prevented women from going to work, and cracked down massively on freedom of the press and expression.
One aspect of the ‘Taliban 2.0’ that initially helped fuel a mistaken belief by some in the West that the Islamist militants would not rule as harshly this time round was the incongruous sight of fighters with designer sunglasses and trainers manning checkpoints around Kabul, taking selfies with Taliban leaders they recognised.
Many of these younger Taliban fighters had never visited a big city before, and have been taking in the sights of Kabul when not on duty. This too, the Taliban leadership have now cracked down on. “Stick to the tasks you have been assigned,” the group’s defence minister Mohammad Yaqoob said in a recent speech according to the Wall Street Journal. “You are damaging our status, which has been created with the blood of our martyrs.”
One of the most popular attractions for off-duty Taliban fighters has been Qargha lake on the outskirts of western Kabul, home to an amusement park and a series of brightly coloured pedalo boats.
On one recent excursion, a Taliban fighter shouted “This is Afghanistan” as he swayed on a rickety pirate ship ride. Later as the sun set, fighters drifted over the lake on swan-shaped pedalos, clutching their M4 assault rifles and AK-47s.