After sweeping across Afghanistan and retaking power in August 2021 as U.S. troops withdrew, longtime Taliban militants are now adjusting to life in peacetime. Their new jobs — policing streets, guarding buildings, collecting garbage — are the mundane, necessary tasks of governing.
The Taliban foot soldiers' new duties are less dramatic than waging war, but there is palpable relief to be free of the violence.
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“Life is much more joyful now. Before there used to be lots of brutality and aggression,” says 28-year-old Abdul Halim Hilal, sheltering from the blazing sun under a mulberry tree in the village of Tabin in the Arghandab River Valley near Kandahar, as he poses for a portrait. “Innocent people would die. Villages were bombed. We couldn't bear it.”
He joined the Taliban as a teenager, believing it was his moral duty to fight foreign troops. He lost as many as 20 friends to the war, and more were wounded. He’s stung by the memory of his dead brothers-in-arms when he sees their fatherless children, but he’s comforted by an unshakeable belief that their sacrifice was worth it.
Mujeeburahman Faqer, a 26-year-old Taliban fighter now mans an uneventful security checkpoint in Kabul. Like many others, he’s struggling to adapt to a peacetime mentality, because all he’s ever known was war. “I had prepared my head for sacrifice,” he says, “and I am still ready.”