No selfies, sightseeing, fast cars for Taliban fighters as Defence Minister issues killjoy order
By Sanjeev Sharma
New Delhi, Sep 26 (IANS) Rank-and-file Taliban fighters have been having too much fun in Kabul after seizing the Afghan capital without a fight last month, and the Taliban leadership has now issued a stern order to stop, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Thousands of young Taliban men from all over the country, many of whom have never been to a big city before, were deployed in Kabul after the Afghan republic collapsed on August 15.
When not on duty, they sightsee, picnic and visit amusement parks, in a tangle of guns and turbans. Taliban fighters from elsewhere in Afghanistan have also come to gawk at Kabul on tourist trips, WSJ said.
Top urban attractions for relaxing Taliban are Qargha lake, with its swan-shaped pedal boats, the Kabul zoo, and the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood, where visitors stroll on a grassy hill overlooking the city.
"I used to infiltrate in, to gather intelligence or to shoot people we were targeting," said Shafiullah Masood, a 24-year-old from the province of Wardak, at the City Park amusement centrE with a gang of Taliban friends, waiting to go on the swinging pirate boat ride. "I'm happy that people are enjoying a peaceful life here now."
The Taliban government's DefenCe Minister Mawlawi Mohammad Yaqoob, a son of the Islamist group's one-eyed founder Mullah Omar, wasn't amused. In a recent speech, he castigated the fighters for going sightseeing, hanging out in big groups, making aimless trips to markets and to the Kabul airport, or exploring government buildings, the report added.
"Stick to the tasks you have been assigned," he said in an audio message released Thursday. "You are damaging our status, which has been created with the blood of our martyrs."
One key instruction was to stop taking so many selfies. Mawlawi Yaqoob was particularly annoyed that the Taliban foot soldiers pull out their phones to take pictures with leaders of the movement whenever they come across them. As these photos end up on social media, they compromise security by giving away locations and activities of the Taliban's senior members, he warned, WSJ said.
Mawlawi Yaqoob also ordered the Taliban fighters to improve their attitude and appearance, bringing their beards, hair and clothes into line with Islamic rules.
Taliban men sporting shoulder-length hair, stylish clothing and mirror sunglasses and wearing Servis Cheetah white high-top sneakers are a frequent sight across Kabul.
The Taliban fighters are also driving around too fast, Mawlawi Yaqoob complained, and not obeying traffic rules. The Taliban have appropriated fleets of Ford Rangers and Toyota Land Cruisers from senior officials of the former Afghan republic and from the army, government ministries and police, the report said.
"This is the behavioUr of the warlords and gangsters of the puppet regime," he said, referring to the US-backed government the Taliban overthrew. "If we continue to act like this, God forbid, we will lose our Islamic system."
So far, Mawlawi Yaqoob's killjoy admonishments appear to have had only a limited impact on the Taliban foot soldiers, many of them still in their teens and bedazzled by novelties such as wheeled office chairs. Their encounters with the modern world have spawned an entire genre of mocking memes that have proliferated on Instagram, the report added.
Ehsanullah and fellow Taliban fighters at the amusement park have been told to hand over their Kalashnikovs and American-made M16 rifles at a special booth. There, a notice from the Taliban leadership instructs them to do so, saying that the presence of guns on rides scares women and children.
"Initially, the public was not familiar with us, our dress, our language," added Ehsanullah, who goes by one name. "Gradually, people are starting to relax around us."
(Sanjeev Sharma can be reached at [email protected])