Shafiqullah Sahar was tried to kill by the Taliban twice in one month. He is miraculously alive and lame for life. Less than a year later and with those same jihadists in power, Sahar continues to occupy his position as director in the new administration of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
How is that possible? The 31-year-old man’s first response comes in the form of laughter. The second serves to shed light on the dark and complex situation under which the 40 million Afghans live. “If I don’t continue with my work, they would continue to threaten me,” he replies while making a reference to his family. Fear and need – they owe them at least two salaries – push many Afghans to continue in the new administration. Others, sympathizers of the bearded men in the shade from before, have begun to see the duster now.
The Taliban announced a 33-person interim cabinet a month ago. Beyond not reflecting the diversity of the population or admitting women, it faces the challenge of overcoming the lack of experience and training, the mistrust of a significant part of the citizens and the flight from the country of tens of thousands of people, many of them qualified officials. In these first weeks, according to various testimonies collected by EL PAÍS, there are few signs that indicate that the announced amnesty is real and complete. The one who wants does not return to his job, but the one who is allowed. To this is added that not even the Taliban themselves expected to take full control of the country so quickly, according to two sources who have had contact at the highest level in the Emirate.
The result of this improvisation was what happened to Shafiqullah Sahar, who had the nose to appear in the bunkerized area of the Green Zone that houses the presidential palace, embassies and other official buildings. It was the morning of Monday, August 16, just a few hours after the capital was taken. The man wanted to keep working. But Kabul was then a time bomb. Nobody dared to predict what would happen five minutes later. Taking advantage of the daring of this director, the bearded men put him in a car and took him to the national television headquarters. They were not going to let the occasion pass without giving a propaganda patina to the matter.
They placed this official of the Independent Directorate of Local Governance (IDLG, according to its acronym in English) in the middle of a huddle and improvised something similar to an institutional declaration cheered with several shouts of “¡¡Allahu akbar! ” (Allah is the greatest). He, surrounded, what was he going to do. Well, throw flowers in front of the camera to those who had just taken Kabul. He assured that they had left radicalism behind as a business card. “The Taliban have come with a different ideology to work and serve the nation,” Sahar said to the man in the turban who put the microphone in front of him and who welcomed in the name of God all those who wanted to keep their position in the administration . Beautiful words that were immediately blown away by the wind.
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It is made clear by Mohammad, until August an official of the service for Afghans in the diaspora dependent on the Vice Presidency, now unemployed and who prefers to keep his real name hidden. The priority, he points out, are the guerrillas, then the trained people who have not served in the previous government, and then the rest. That was explained in a meeting a couple of weeks ago in the Kabuli neighborhood of Kart-e-Char by a pro-Thaliban businessman from Kandahar to a group of about fifteen officials, including 30-year-old Mohammad.
In other cases, as has happened to a friend of his from the Ministry of Finance, they accepted his return to the job, but as soon as work was on track and those around him more or less got the hang of it, they sent him home. This way of selecting the personnel and of rewarding those who have been shooting in the mountains all these years has been corroborated by several consulted officials of different levels. It is therefore not only that a part of the population formed in the last twenty years has left or wants to leave the country, it is that the Taliban want to compensate their men after the years of war, although in their curriculum what prevails is the experience on the battlefield.
“Many people did not have any leadership or management experience. They are mullahs and muyaidines that they only know how to give and carry out orders, ”explains a senior official who has been the director of one of the country’s airports with the previous government and who has a daily direct line with one of the new Taliban ministers. He defines him as a highly respected leader among the guerrillas, but without any experience in the position for which he has been appointed. “They are quiet people, who work in silence and who want to learn, but I don’t know what training they have beyond the madrasa,” he points out, referring to the Koranic schools so frequented by the Taliban.
This official arrives at the meeting with the reporter aboard an armored car driven by a chauffeur. But he is not satisfied. “If I had a good opportunity to go with my family, I would not hesitate,” he says because he does not see, at the moment, that the new government has a “plan for the future.” “They are limited to the previous ones taking everything forward.” In his department, most continue to go to work despite fear and reservations about what awaits the new administration.
In these weeks of landing he has realized that some already sympathized with the Taliban before. But they do not have enough support and the jihadists try to pull the contact list, especially for highly technical positions for which it is not easy to find qualified people. It is one thing to set up a control in the street and search motorists and another to manage the communications or the country’s economy. The high official regrets in any case that it was not the Taliban who have come to power, but the United States and the rest of the international troops who have promoted them. “We Afghans have not accepted the Taliban,” he ditch. Sitting in his office in a public building in Kabul’s Third District, 28-year-old Mawlawi Mohammad imposes his authority. Ask in writing the questions the reporter wants to ask the ordinary Taliban. He reads them carefully and decides that he is going to answer them. But his answers are just empty words.
Bilal Shafiola, 19, presents himself as a Taliban inventor, but does not hide some disappointment after arriving in the capital from Wardak province in early September. Unlike other Taliban, he is armed with a kind of home-made Kalashnikov that he has tried to teach his superiors without much success, he explains while guarding the headquarters of the Ministry of Information. Make sure the gun actually fires and shows a video as proof. He says he has also designed a machine that helps chickens lay eggs faster and a small unmanned helicopter. The main objective of reaching the capital was to achieve recognition for his inventive work that he has not obtained. He does not rule out going home. There he lives with two sisters for whom, he claims, the sharia (Islamic law) requires an indoor role.
The women’s issue is another pending issue. His presence in Afghanistan gained a lot in the last 20 years despite the fact that many of his rights remained curtailed. Shafiqullah Sahar has six more brothers who work in the administration. His three sisters have not returned to their posts. For one thing, the Taliban won’t let them. On the other, they are afraid. However, his three brothers do.
Sahar studied medicine in Khost province, but never practiced. He responds that he was never a Taliban sympathizer and that he has always been a kind of neighborhood leader in his native Paktia province. It is these citizens, together with his family, that he points to when he is asked several times in the interview the reason for his decision to remain in his position as director.
He was one of the public interlocutors who demanded from President Ashraf Ghani improvements for the people of Paktia on his last visit. And there Sahar was visiting some projects when on August 22 of last year the car in which he was traveling was shot. The tribal leader who was with him was killed and a gunshot wound to the knee left him forever lame. Just one month later, on September 22, two explosives were placed at the door of his home. The home-made pumps were discovered by some customers in the grocery store next door. In the photos he keeps, you can even see the mobile that served as a detonator covered in mud to camouflage it.
Shafiqullah Sahar believes that he was wanted by the Haqqani network, the most radical wing of the Taliban. Today that network, led by the current Interior Minister, Sirajuddin Haqqani, has large quotas of power in the new government that Sahar has no choice but to serve. The images of several men executed and hanged in public in recent days recall that under their turbans the same bloodthirsty mentality that kept them in power between 1996 and 2001 persists. “We can be bad, very bad and worse. And we are in a bad way, ”he says, outlining a smile of moderate optimism Sahar.
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