A City Living Under the Taliban’s Shadow
By MUJIB MASHAL and FAHIM ABED. DEC. 22, 2016
The northern Afghan city of Kunduz has fallen to the Taliban twice in one year, and insurgent fighters remain throughout the surrounding area. But within the city, we found an unlikely sense of calm and resilience.
The evidence of violence is everywhere. Tens of thousands were displaced by the fighting, dozens killed and hundreds wounded. Food prices skyrocketed overnight.
As we neared the end of a six-hour drive to Kunduz from the Afghan capital Kabul, we saw the skeletons of dozens of trucks – used to supply Afghan forces – that had been torched by the Taliban all along the roadside.
“They said the Taliban had taken the main roundabout, but I didn’t believe them,” said Ghulam Rasoul, 27, a baker, as he recalled the second time the insurgents entered the city. “When the Taliban came here to buy bread, I said, ‘O.K., the city has fallen.’”
The city’s major trauma center, run by Doctors Without Borders, was destroyed in an American military air barrage last year. At the one remaining hospital, run by the government, we heard accounts of heroic work by the staff members – many of whom did not go home for more than 10 days – to save lives during the latest siege, in October.
The doctors treat victims of the fighting that continues in the districts surrounding Kunduz city. But as the major health center in the province, the hospital must also tend to family health issues, as when this family brought in a young son whose leg was paralyzed.
We also followed a gravedigger and his young son. The gravedigger worked at the city’s main cemetery. He digs graves and then waters the trees. He also chases away addicts if they try to steal grave railings – or shepherd boys whose herds stumble on the graves – pelting them with rocks and cursing them.
Some nights, the gravedigger sleeps in the back of a damaged truck near the cemetery to keep a closer eye on the addicts. Other days, he gathers his belongings after his evening prayer and heads home.
At night, the sound of mortars fired from the hills still punctuates the silence, a reminder that the Taliban are not far from the city gates.
Still, the people have come to regard each of the endless episodes of violence as a minor disruption, another memory. This resilience seems to define so many Afghans after decades of war. They have no choice: This could easily happen again, so life must go on.