Taliban-style safety welcomed by some, feared by others

They immediately found something new: the Taliban militants, who are now the cops, are not asking for bribes, as cops under the US-backed government have done for the past 20 years.

“Everyone used to steal our money,” said Hajj Ahmad Khan, who recently stood in line at the District 8 Police Station in Kabul. “Everywhere in our villages and in government offices everyone had their hands stretched out,” he said.

Many Afghans fear the Taliban’s harsh crackdowns, their harsh ideology or their severe restrictions on women’s freedoms. But the movement has a reputation for not being corrupt, in stark contrast to the government it overthrew, which was notoriously full of bribery, embezzlement and manipulation.

Even local residents who shudder at the possible return of punishments – like chopping off the hands of thieves – say some security forces have returned to Kabul since the Taliban marched in on August 15. Under the previous government, gangs of thieves had driven most of the people off the streets in the dark. Several roads between cities have reopened and some international aid organizations have even given the go-ahead for travel.

Still, there are dangers. On Sunday, a bomb outside the Eid Gah mosque in Kabul killed several civilians and targeted Taliban members attending a memorial ceremony. Nobody took responsibility for the bombing, but the rival IS group has stepped up attacks against the Taliban in an IS stronghold in eastern Afghanistan.

During their last term in office in the late 1990s, the Taliban offered a compromise: they brought a level of stability that the Afghans were desperately looking for and eliminated corruption, but they also enforced their harsh interpretation of Islamic law. These included punishments such as hand amputations, executions of murderers with a single bullet in the head, mostly by a relative of the murder victim and all in public. Religious policemen beat men for trimming their beards or not participating in prayers.

In the past week the Taliban arrested 85 suspected criminals, some of whom were petty crimes and others were charged with murder, kidnapping and robbery, said Noor Ahmad Rabbani of the Taliban’s Anti-Crime Division.

The Taliban say they will withdraw their previous sentences. The only question is whether they will execute them in public, Mullah Nooruddin Turabi, former attorney general and current prison officer, told The Associated Press.

Some penalties have already resurfaced. The bodies of four men were hung on cranes in the center of Herat city after they were killed by the Taliban in an alleged kidnapping attempt. At least twice in Kabul petty thieves were led around with handcuffs, painted faces or with stale bread in their mouths in order to shame them.

Armed Taliban have taken positions at checkpoints across Kabul and gradually some have been made to wear uniforms – the start of a new national security force, officials say. For many Kabul residents – especially the young people who grew up listening to horror stories about the bygone days of Taliban rule – the sight of the fighters roaming the streets freely with their characteristic long hair, traditional clothing and hanging Kalashnikovs is terrifying. Guns at their sides.

But so far they seem to have brought some relief from the corruption. Before the Taliban takeover in August, people had to pay bribes just to pay an electricity bill. The rampant fraud in the military was one of the reasons it collapsed so quickly in the face of the advancing Taliban. Despite the overt transplant, the US and Europe have poured billions of dollars into the government without much oversight.

As in the past, the Taliban have reached out to tribal elders to resolve disputes. Last week a group of elders gathered in a mosque in Kabul to decide on a knife attack with minor injuries. The elders asked the perpetrator’s father to pay the victim nearly $ 400, enough to cover medical expenses.

Muhammed Yousef Jawid accepted his sentence.

“It’s fast and a lot cheaper than the previous system,” he said.

At the District 8 Police Station, the new commander, a sociable Taliban named Zabihullah, said the Taliban had fought for 20 years to bring Islamic laws into Afghanistan. “Now the people are safe under our government,” he said.

Zabihullah, who like many Afghans has only one name, comes from the central province of Ghazni, where the insurgents have fought some of their bitterest battles over the past two decades.

At 32, he said he hadn’t trained as a police commander, but had done most of his training at a medrese or religious school. But Zabihullah said his war years and adherence to the Taliban’s interpretation of Islamic law prepared him.

The line in front of the police station gates grew longer.

The sixty-year-old Khan had come from the eastern province of Khost to ask the Taliban for help in collecting an outstanding loan. He said he supports Taliban punishments such as amputations, but not for petty thieves.

He said they brought security “because they treat the criminals according to Islamic law”.

A school principal who refused to give his name for fear of the consequences came to the police station to complain about parents who were months behind with school fees.

He said he wanted to give the Taliban rule a chance. Under the previous administration, he was charged bribes every time he went to the police to complain about back payments.

“America invested a lot of money in Afghanistan, but it was a mafia that ran the country,” he said.

Another complainant, using his name only as Dr. Sharif stated that he had recently returned from Saudi Arabia, where he had worked for several years. He had no objection to Taliban-style punishment, but he strongly opposed the entrustment of Taliban leaders and religious clergy with running government agencies.

“We need professional people … we need economists, not a Maulvi who has no clue about business,” he said, using a word for a Muslim clergyman.

However, he welcomed the fact that his complaint was heard by the Taliban police without a request for bribery. The police previously took bribes just to get to the station.

“The mistake of the previous governments,” he said, “was that they put all the money in their pockets.”

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The Associated Press Writer Samya Kullab in Kabul contributed to this report.