If you want to really know what living in the shadows means, you need to hear the story of Noorullah (name changed to protect his identity), a soldier who had served in the previous Republic government and now, had to completely wipe off his existence as the Taliban took over in August 2021. This soldier knows that the outcome of any war is not good, but he did not expect the Taliban so offer former government officials amnesty.
When the Taliban announced general amnesty, he knew that the group is no different from its first regime, wherein such officials will be targeted and killed. As days progressed, Noorullah witnessed what the amnesty really entails and how life under the Taliban was no different than fighting a war every single day.
On the day of the fall, the brave Noorullah was fighting against the Taliban forces at the frontlines of his city. At the young age of 29, he was one of the company commanders in one of the districts in the northern provinces. “We had been continuing our battle against the Taliban forces when we received calls from the 209 Shaheen Corps and they told us to persevere and not let the province fall to the group,” Noorullah describes the day vividly.
However, things took a dramatic turn at 8 o’ clock in the evening, when Noorullah and his forces heard about the fall of Mazar-e-Sharif city and the abandonment of 209 Shaheen Army Corps. The soldiers had been informed that many troops moved towards Hairatan port as Mazar-e Sharif city was out of the control of the Republic government now. A day later, the city where Noorullah had served fell to the Taliban.
“When a new government is formed, it is but natural that there will be changes among the people and all government departments. Especially those who have been in the system and security forces. With the arrival of the Taliban, security forces, including I, have been completely relieved of our duties,” says Noorullah. Noorullah and his forces, at the request of the local people and the mediation of elders, had submitted all military equipment to the Taliban and surrendered.
“We had been held captive by the Taliban forces for a whole day, and then, released the next day,” recalls Noorullah.
This had been the most challenging phase for Noorullah, who is the sole breadwinner for his family of 13. He had to flee the Taliban, make sure no one identifies him as a former soldier and also ensure that his family is fed and safe. So, after being released from the Taliban prison, Noorullah went to his house and did not step out, living in the shadows, due to the fear of the Taliban, for two months.
“We had a lot of fear. I was afraid that history would repeat itself and my history of being a former soldier too didn’t help my situation. I could not contact our friends and had to hide our location from others,” explains Noorullah.
But, living without identity in the shadows, has been a battle, Noorullah has no experience in. “Former soldiers have been living in fear since over a year. We do not feel safe and have developed many psychological problems. We remain unemployed and face economic challenges. There is no way to solve this crisis in the country,” claims Noorullah.
A thankful Noorullah says that he is fortunate enough that no one has bothered him yet, which he believes is because he has not committed a crime. However, he silently tells of tales of his friends, all former soldiers, who have not been quite as fortunate.
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Noorullah describes a ruthless cycle of aggression, torture and human rights violations which is continuously underway across the country under the leadership of the Taliban’s intelligence directorate. “My friends have been captured and tortured by the Taliban intelligence department under different pretexts. They had been in the prison for nearly a month and had been asked to submit weapons and ammunition. After that, they were released through the mediation of elders. But, some of them who have been imprisoned recently, are still in prison. My friends claim that they had been imprisoned in an inappropriate place and were not given food or water and were tortured once or twice every day,” narrates Noorullah.
He stated that the pretexts for the arrests varied from not delivering military equipment to the Taliban or allegations of cooperating with the National Resistance Forces.
The life of the soldier, however, does not end there. Noorullah talks about unemployment and the lack of money due to which he had to search for daily-wage jobs. “Before the fall, I used to get money for doing my duty and serving the people. I could provide for myself and my family. But now, with the lack of work and the high price of food, life is difficult,” he adds.
Even finding a job on a daily basis has been tough for this former soldier. “Some days, I find work, most days I don’t, with an average salary for a day’s work at a meagre 200 Afghanis,” he said.
Noorullah speaks of eternal despair as he claims that everyday an uncertain future awaits him, as he jostles between finding a job and the fear of being identified and caught by the Taliban. “The former soldiers of the Republic regime are living a ghost’s live in Afghanistan. We are now forced to stay in the country as no organization has taken any action to evacuate us. We can’t leave on our own as we don’t have the money to save our family and move to another place. There is no hope, but to continue to live in the shadows,” concludes Noorullah.