Past gun-toting Taliban, some Kabul residents venture back to work

·3-min read

KABUL (Reuters) -Some Kabul residents cautiously ventured back to work through quiet streets on Tuesday, fearful after a night broken by the sound of gunfire and facing questions from their new Taliban rulers stationed at checkpoints across the Afghan capital.

The Islamist Taliban, who stopped women from working and administered punishments including public stoning during their previous 1996-2001 rule, swept the country in days as U.S.-backed government forces melted away.

While the Taliban have pledged there will be no retribution against opponents and promised to respect the rights of women, minorities and foreigners, many Afghans are sceptical.

But they also know life must go on.

"I am scared but what made me open my shop is feeding my family," 48-year-old grocery shopkeeper Mohammadullah told Reuters by phone.

"I don't have any other way of income. If I don't open my shop then how can I feed my family of 12?" he said, adding that there were far fewer customers than usual.

The majority of shops and supermarkets in Kabul were shuttered and schools were closed, residents said. But some small grocery shops and butchers were open, as were hospitals.

Traffic was light, but there were several pick-up trucks with mounted white flags that were carrying Taliban gunmen.

"It was with the nation supporting us that the Americans failed here, and the Islamic system is established," said a Taliban commander on the street, Mawlavi Haq Dost.

"This is a legal system and we assure our people whether they are Hazara, Tajik or Turk (minorities) that there won't be any harassment from mujahideen to them."

FREE TO WORK

Asadullah Wardak, a doctor in Afghanistan for 12 years, said he decided to return to work after staying home for two days. His children, who live in Canada, have urged him to leave, but he has opted to stay in Kabul where he works as a gynaecologist.

On his way to work at the Sana Medical Hospital, two Taliban men checked his car and his identity card. He said they told him he was free to work and gave him phone numbers to call in case his hospital encountered problems with blood supplies or medicine shortages.

They also asked him to ensure women patients and female doctors work separately while male doctors are only allowed to see female patients in the presence of another female doctor, he said.

Alberto Zanin, medical coordinator of an Italian medical charity in Kabul, said his hospital had treated several patients with gunshot wounds in the last 24 hours, some of whom were injured in the chaos at Kabul airport as hundreds of citizens tried to flee aboard diplomatic evacuation flights.

He said there was a lot of gunfire during the night and that the situation in the city remained tense, with armed Taliban soldiers stopping people at checkpoints close to his home.

"In the city, there is much less traffic, far fewer people out and about," he said. "People are worried."

One German officer who served in Afghanistan in recent years showed Reuters, on condition of anonymity, desperate pleas for help he had received from a local interpreter in Kabul he used to work with.

"I fear for my wife and kids," the interpreter said in one message to the officer. "Taliban will...punish us for our work for you."

(Reporting by Kabul bureau, Rupam Jain, Crispian Balmer in Rome and Sabine Siebold in Berlin; Writing by John Geddie; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Nick Macfie)

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