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The family welcoming the Taliban in rural Afghanistan

The interior of the mud brick house was cool, clean, and quiet. A man named Shamsullah, who had a young son clinging to his leg, led us to the room where they received the guests.

A rug covered the floor and cushions ran along the walls that were at least two feet thick. Some treasures were in sight. A small cupboard with half a dozen tiny colored glass bottles. But the family is poor and all the possessions they had were destroyed or looted during the last 20 years of war.

The house was a refuge from the heat and dusty air outside. It was surrounded by high mud walls, like all the family complexes on the grounds that became battlefields in Marjah, Helmand province, southern Afghanistan.

Inside the walls were some cotton plants ready to be harvested.

Four dead children

Shamsullah introduced us to his mother, Goljuma. He said he was 65 years old. She had wrapped herself in a long shawl that covered her head and body down to her knees, with a small space to look.

Sometimes he caught the glint of an eye and the bridge of a nose. Goljuma’s voice was strong as he spoke of a life full of sadness and a war that killed his four oldest children..

Shamsullah, the youngest, was the only one left. He was 24 years old, but his face looked like someone 10 years older.

Goljuma’s first son to die, 11 years ago, was Zia Ul Huq. He was a Taliban fighter. “My son joined the Taliban because he understood that the Americans wanted to destroy Islam and Afghanistan,” Goljuma said.

The other three children died in 2014. Quadratallah was killed in an airstrike. The other two brothers, Hayatullah and Aminullah, were arrested in a police raid on the family home.

Shamsullah said his brothers were forced to join the army and eventually died.

As the sole survivor, Shamsullah said that God decided that he had to take on the responsibilities of the family.

“Have you ever tried balancing five watermelons with one hand? That’s the way things are for me, ”he told me. His duties include looking out for the well-being of his older brother’s widow, Zia, the Taliban fighter.

“I miss my brothers,” Shamsullah said. “My oldest brother’s wife married my next brother when the first one died. When the second was killed, the third brother married her. When he was killed, my fourth brother married her. I married her when they killed the last one ”.

The conflict in Afghanistan became the longest war for the United States.  GETTY IMAGES

“A bleeding ulcer”

In 2010, Marjah was chosen to host the first US troop “surge” operation ordered by President Barack Obama.

The idea was that the reinforcements would deliver coups de grace that would decisively change the course of the war in favor of the Kabul government and the American, British and other allied forces that supported it.

“As we drive out the Taliban, there is nothing but a bright future ahead: good schools, good health clinics, a free market,” predicted a 2010 US military press release.

The cotton and poppy fields to produce opium in Marjah became a nightmare for foreign troops fighting the elusive Taliban insurgents.

Three months after the long operation, the American commander, General Stanley McChrystal, described Marjah as “a bleeding ulcer”.

It was the scene of many battles in the next 10 years.

The Taliban regained control of Afghanistan from mid-August.  EPA

Armed bodyguard

Goljuma despises Western leaders who said they were trying to make Afghanistan a better place for the people. “I don’t know anything about your mission. They destroyed the country, ”he said.

She was incredulous when I asked her about the opportunities that women could seize and that now losing them makes them heartbroken.

Said Before the Taliban won the war, everyone was afraid of them. Now they’re relieved it’s over.

However, one question is whether Goljuma spoke freely. The Taliban media office insisted that the BBC team travel with an armed Taliban bodyguard and a translator approved by them as conditions for our presence in Helmand. Had they not been there, we might have heard more about the fear that the Taliban instill in many Afghans.

But I did not doubt Goljuma’s sincerity when he condemned the destruction inflicted on Helmand’s traditional farming community by the world’s most powerful armies, and his grief over his four dead sons.

In 2001, shortly after the September 11 attacks on the United States, the United States, the United Kingdom, and their allies invaded Afghanistan with a clear mission: to destroy al Qaeda and to punish the Taliban for harboring them.

What happened next it is much more difficult to understand and justify; an unwinnable war that spanned everything they tried to do to improve the lives of Afghans.

Development, like democracy, cannot come from the canyon. The West won victories along the way. In fact, a generation of urban men and women received an education and their horizons were transformed.

But Those benefits did not reach rural people, poor and with little education, like Goljuma’s family.

When the Taliban first seized power in 1996, they used violence to enforce their religious and cultural beliefs.

Now, most Afghans are too young to remember the years before 9/11 and the invasion.

Contact with the outside

In Lashkar Gah, in Helmand province, young Taliban reacted to BBC cameras by pulling out their mobile phones, filming us and taking selfies with foreigners.

Mobile data is cheap here. Our Taliban escort saw the BBC Pashto page on his phone. The world is open to them in a way that it was not in the 1990s, when the Taliban banned photography.

The fighters in your group are no longer children who grew up without knowledge of the outside world. So, will they force their own fighters, or the rest of the population, to give up smartphones, the internet and a world that attracts them? This time it might be more difficult to bend and break a country.

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