A billboard torn down. A defiant schoolyard song. A line of women protesting. A near-empty cafe with no music.
Amid the swift and definitive Taliban takeover of Kabul, Afghans took out their cellphones, filming the chaos of the group’s arrival, the changes that marked their presence and the eerie calm that came next.
In the wake of the U.S. withdrawal from the country after 20 years of war, the militant group known for its brutal treatment of women and strict religious interpretations is once again in charge of Afghanistan.
Chaos gripped the international airport as masses of people tried to flee. But millions stayed in Kabul, unsure of what comes next.
In a news conference Tuesday, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said those who helped the previous Afghan government or military would be “pardoned” and that there would be “no discrimination against women, but, of course, within the frameworks we have.” But there are already reports in other parts of the country of women forced to cover themselves, and the shuttering of girls’ schools.
With international embassies and some news outlets leaving the country, it’s not yet clear how the group will govern, or who will be there to document it.
The Washington Post collected social media posts uploaded from Kabul between Aug. 15-17. Most of the videos and images came from Snap Map, a public platform that allows Snapchat users to post videos and images captured in real time.
The Post analyzed more than 100 videos and images that together illustrate what Kabul residents witnessed as the Taliban took control of the city.
The Taliban arrives
As the Taliban entered Kabul on Sunday morning, videos appeared to show panic set in. Traffic jams clogged the city.
Images showed fighters had entered the city by early Sunday afternoon, eliciting despair for some, and immediate change. Taliban members, according to the caption, were furtively filmed in the “District 5” section of the city. The user posted a white flag emoji to symbolize the group’s banner.
Users filmed trucks they identified as Taliban vehicles driving through the streets.
One person showed what they said was the “biggest” military base in Kabul “under Taliban control.”
Another showed men tearing down a poster of a woman at the Rana University campus.
One man filmed people taking down the Afghan flag in Kabul.
“Oh God, please help my country,” he said.
Scenes of a changing city
As night fell on Sunday, the streets emptied. A usually bustling neighborhood, Pole Sorkh, was quiet and dark.
Meanwhile, some users had wielded their social media accounts in an act of subtle defiance. One posted the music video of a song whose lyrics evoke the spirit of female expression.
“Don’t hide me inside the house, behind the veil, under the shadow,” a woman sings. “ ‘Cause I’m the Sun lady, progressive, full of passion.”
Another user posted a parody of a children’s song.
“I wish I was a fish/in a big sea,” the original song goes.
“I wish I was Dostum/going to Uzbekistan,” the user quipped, referring to Afghanistan’s former vice president, Abdurrashid Dostum, who had fled the country.
Images of women on storefronts were defaced. The photographer who took them on Monday said that it was regular Afghans who destroyed the posters, recalling the Taliban forbade such pictures when it was in power from 1996 to 2001.
Images of women on Kabul storefronts are painted over as civilians fear repercussions from the Taliban. (Omer Khan)
Uncertain calm sets in
Over the next two days, an eerie calm took over the city as some shops and restaurants reopened.
“Everything is normal,” someone wrote, showing an unremarkable intersection in Kabul.
But there were signs of a changed city. One user said there were no “security guards” in the street for the first time in their life.
Another user posted a typical morning pastry and hot drink at a cafe, but they noted that no music was playing in the nearly empty establishment.
Others turned to dark humor.
Three days after the Taliban take Kabul, Snapchat users share reactions online. (Snapchat)
While some Afghans resumed daily life, the fate of their country in the balance, a few took that future into their own hands. On Tuesday, several women lined up to demand liberties in the new regime.
“Sharia law gives us the right to work and study and be educated,” they chanted. The Taliban has said it will give women more rights within Islamic law, but how it will interpret and enforce that remains to be seen.
Mahnaz Rezaie contributed to this report.