The Taliban may have won the war in Afghanistan, but the jihadists who once spent their days riding horses in the countryside are now stuck behind a desk, lamenting their boring computer jobs, spending all their time on Twitter, high rent, and commutes to work.
It’s been almost two years since the U.S. withdrew from Afghanistan and the Taliban took over. In that time, the country’s new leaders have had time to take over its industries, occupy its buildings, and get very bored of the day-to-day drudgery of running the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
In a series of interviews with five former mujahideen turned government functionaries and police officers, the Afghanistan Analytics Network shed light on the inner lives of the men who spent a lifetime fighting an empire only to win and have to run a country.
The Afghanistan Analytics Network is a non-profit research agency. Researcher Sabawoon Samin conducted the interviews in person, primarily in Kabul. He interviewed five members of the Taliban to see how they’re adjusting to victory. “They ranged in age from 24 to 32 and had spent between six and 11 years in the Taliban, at different ranks: a Taliban commander, a sniper, a deputy commander and two fighters,” Samin said in his piece. After the fall of the Islamic Republic, the men secured jobs for the new government in Kabul. Two got civilian jobs and the other three got security positions.
Huzaifa, a former sniper, said life was simple and free during jihad. “All we had to deal with was making plans for ta’aruz [attacks] against the enemy and for retreating,” he said. “People didn’t expect much from us, and we had little responsibility towards them, whereas now if someone is hungry, he deems us directly responsible for that…the Taliban used to be free of restrictions, but now we sit in one place, behind a desk and a computer 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Life’s become so wearisome; you do the same things every day. Being away from the family has only doubled the problem.”
“I sometimes miss the jihad life for all the good things it had,” said 25-year-old Abdul Nafi. “In our ministry, there’s little work for me to do. Therefore, I spend most of my time on Twitter. We’re connected to speedy Wi-Fi and internet. Many mujahedin, including me, are addicted to the internet, especially Twitter.”
None of the interviewed men are native to Kabul, they’re all men from the provinces who moved into the city after the U.S. left. “I haven’t brought my family to Kabul, Omar Mansur told Samin. “The rent of houses is very high for us since our salary is no more than 15,000 afghanis [roughly 180 USD]. It is fully sufficient for Yahyakhel but not for Kabul. As soon as, God willing, I have a good salary, I will bring my family here.”
Mansu also complained about the traffic. “Last year, it was tolerable but in the last few months, it’s become more and more congested,” he said. Then he lamented the freedom he lost when the Taliban won the war.
“In the group, we had a great degree of freedom about where to go, where to stay, and whether to participate in the war,” he said “However, these days, you have to go to the office before 8 AM and stay there till 4 PM. If you don’t go, you’re considered absent, and [the wage for] that day is cut from your salary. We’re now used to that, but it was especially difficult in the first two or three months.”
A man named Kamran also lamented office life. “I’m sort of happy with my job but often miss the time of jihad. During that time, every minute of our life was counted as worship,” he said. “We used to live among the people. Many of us have now caged ourselves in our offices and palaces, abandoning that simple life. I’m very concerned about our mujahedin. The real test and challenge was not during the jihad. Rather, it’s now. At that time, it was simple, but now things are much more complicated. We are tested by cars, positions, wealth and women. Many of our mujahedin, God forbid, have fallen into these seemingly sweet, but actually bitter traps.”
Peace and civilization has its drawbacks, and the warriors of the Taliban have spent more than a generation fighting. It’s hard to flip the switch and make the transition. It’s still difficult not to miss the days of the jihad,” Abdul Nafi, a farmer, said, lamenting the pursuit of money that’s coming to dominate life in Afghanistan.
Nafi has also realized how replaceable he is.“There is a proverb in our area that money is like a shackle,” he said. “Now, if we complain, or don’t come to work, or disobey the rules, they cut our salary. Unlike jihad, now particularly, when the battles are long gone and the risk is zero, the Emirate could find countless people to work with them in return for a salary.”