— The man on the phone introduced himself as the Taliban’s new minister for the propagation of virtue and the suppression of vice. And he was hunting down anyone connected to a shelter for abused women.
It was just a day after the capture of the city of Kunduz
, but one of the harshest wings of the old Taliban was back in the business of persecuting women.
The coordinator for the shelter, Hassina Sarwari, had just made it out of Kunduz on Tuesday, after navigating a network of new Taliban security checkpoints, when she received a phone call from the Virtue Ministry’s leader asking her where the shelter’s residents and staff members had gone. When she told him, with some satisfaction, that all of them had already escaped, his voice became menacing.
“You are lucky you have evacuated all your women,” Ms. Sarwari recalled him saying.
In the hours after the insurgents’ victory in Kunduz, they served public notice that the city would be a showcase for a more tolerant style of Taliban governance. They announced a new court system and, speaking to fears that they would revive their old practice of summary executions, they promised amnesty for government employees.
But a range of interviews with residents and officials illuminated how the past four days of Taliban rule in Kunduz carried frightening echoes of some of its harshest abuses from the 1990s. Even as the group’s public announcements were offering assurances of safety for civilians and edicts against looting and executions, almost entirely the opposite was actually happening.
“There is a state of dread and distress in the city, although the Taliban has come to the mosques and the streets to call on people and tell them that they are safe,” said Rahmatullah, a prominent Kunduz teacher who goes by just one name.
In the first hours of the Taliban’s consolidation of control, many residents hid in their homes in fear. But others wandered the streets to gawk at the city’s new conquerors. Some even described holding on to hopes that the Taliban would bring order to a city long plagued by feuding militias and gangsterism.
Those hopes were fueled when the group’s leader, Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, wrote an open letter to the Afghan public promising that his forces would not commit the sort of atrocities for which the Taliban are known.
But within a day, the order seemed to have broken down — or, perhaps, was just exposed as propaganda.
One man recounted how his cousins were killed on Wednesday after the insurgents entered their home. The man’s cousins, named Atiq and Zia ul Haq, were police officers, though one had quit the force four months earlier. (The two deaths were confirmed by an official with Afghanistan’s intelligence agency.)
Others described how the Taliban were going door to door, looking for anyone with government connections.
The Taliban said that it would not tolerate looting, even using loudspeakers to call on shopkeepers to return to their shops and safeguard their property.
Yet looting became rampant, often conducted by Taliban themselves or other armed men who blended in with the Taliban.
Ted Callahan, a security adviser in northeast Afghanistan
, wrote in an email that rumors of the loot to be had in Kunduz had begun prompting rural families to send their sons into the city with particular instructions: “Go bring back some ghanimat,” the word for war plunder.
He said the original Taliban fighters had been augmented by “villagers who are coming into the city, fighting for a bit, and then do a carjacking and go home.”
Naseeb, a resident of Kunduz, said that on Thursday that he saw an ambulance full of carpets “probably stolen” headed out of the city. “I had a closer look of the ambulance and it was shocking to see that it was the Taliban driving,” Naseeb said, adding that it was the first time in four days he had seen them participating in looting that had grown increasingly common.
Another resident, Ahmad Khalid, said that before fleeing Kunduz on Thursday, he saw Taliban fighters huddled around a car. They were trying to steal it, which Mr. Khalid learned when one of the fighters called him over and asked him for help hot-wiring it. “I was afraid, but I went over and I tried, but couldn’t start it,” he recalled.
One of the Taliban’s first edicts for Kunduz, posted to its English-language website and clearly intended for a wider audience, called for all workers of nongovernmental organizations to continue working normally. Any worker facing problems was instructed to contact the Taliban’s “Commission for Control and Administration of NGOs and Companies of the Islamic Emirate.”
Yet NGO workers are having their “houses looted and burned,” according to a researcher with Amnesty International, Horia Mosadiq, who has been contacting people in Kunduz.
Ms. Sarwari, the coordinator a shelter run by the group Women for Afghan Women, had been on the road out of Kunduz for just a few hours on Tuesday when she received the chilling call from the Taliban’s new virtue minister in Kunduz. A day later, she heard that the Taliban had continued their search within the city.
Insurgent fighters had gone to the home of one of her colleagues, the caretaker at a safe house for runaway women, Ms. Sarwari said. Although the caretaker was not home, having already gone into hiding, the Taliban still exacted punishment: They gunned down the caretaker’s husband, then abducted her 20-year-old son, Ms. Sarwari said. Ms. Sarwari said she had heard of numerous other killings in that same neighborhood, Sare Dawra.
Later in the week, the Taliban’s plans for Kunduz seemed to shift toward recruiting new fighters. Mr. Khalid said that when he left his home to see what was happening, he saw a Taliban militant with pen and paper exhorting young men to “to come and fight the infidels and puppet regime.”
Before turning away, he counted a crowd of about eight young men who were in the midst of signing up.
“I thought it a good idea to get away from there,” Mr. Khalid said. “They were telling those who signed up to bring their friends along, too.”
By Wednesday night, a new fear was realized: The city was plunged into battle as Afghan commandos tried to take the city back from the Taliban.
Few people ventured outside on Thursday, except to flee the crossfire, as Afghan security forces rolled into the city in Humvees and Taliban mortar shells and rockets crisscrossed Kunduz.