The Taliban invited The Telegraph to tea, and issued a chilling warning to the West

The Taliban are continuing their victory celebrations in Kabul - Shutterstock
The Taliban are continuing their victory celebrations in Kabul - Shutterstock

The neatly arranged office toys and management guru books were still on the desk from the previous government official. But their Taliban replacement had added his own executive touches, including one of the movement's white religious banners and a captured M4 carbine once used by an Afghan commando.

Spotlessly turned out in white robes and a black turban, the bearded official in his 30s was polite and offered tea, but declined to give his name because he did not have permission to speak and only said he was a “manager”.

“We are very happy that we are now the leaders of the government,” he told The Telegraph. “We want to have good relations with all the rest of the world. We want to work with foreigners and have good relations.”

The Telegraph's unannounced visit to the government building now in the hands of the Taliban was a relaxed affair. The offer of tea was made with a warm welcome inside, part of a charm offensive by the Islamist leaders who until not too long ago viewed Western journalists with suspicion.

Until the new Taliban government had been announced and formal appointments could be made, the official said he had the job of securing the office belonging to the finance ministry, using a retinue of wild-looking Taliban footsoldiers to stand guard.

The Taliban takeover has seen thousands of such fighters descend on the capital Kabul, many of them from insurgency heartlands such as Kandahar and Helmand. Often sporting large turbans and unruly long hair and beards as well as weapons, these rural militiamen are a far cry from the sophisticated and fashionable Kabul residents they have come to watch over. After arriving, they drive around in pick-up trucks or stand guard at checkpoints.

“When I used to come to the city, I had to sneak in like a thief, in case the government caught me. I could not even walk freely in my own country,” said one fighter from Kapisa, who was wrapped in an orange shawl and camouflage jacket and standing guard outside the shuttered British embassy.

“Now we are in charge. We never thought we would see a victory like this.”

The tumultuous changes of the past month have meant Taliban fighters are now guarding the very same ministries and hotels that they were trying to attack only a few weeks ago. At another ministry building a commander from near Spin Boldak in Kandahar province spoke into a walkie-talkie and oversaw his men as they checked people in for appointments.

The commander, who gave his name only as Nisar, said he had joined the insurgents some 18 years ago.

“We are happy that we are victorious. We fought for 20 years. We want Islamic law, and not just in Afghanistan.”

Refusing to speak English

He revealed he could speak excellent English, but then refused to do so, saying he did not want to speak the language used by the invaders. “I won't speak English with you because I don't like it,” he told the Telegraph.

“I joined the Taliban because when the Americans came, we had our government, our culture and the Americans came and attacked us.

“They didn't want to come for al-Qaeda, they had their own interests and wanted to destroy our country.”

In recent years his fighters had largely fought in Kandahar and Helmand, he said, where they had often clashed with British forces.

Now he echoed the pronouncements of the movement's spokesmen saying that their revived emirate would learn from the mistakes of its 1990s predecessor.

An armed Taliban fighter stands guard at a Mosque in Kabul on September 3 - AFP
An armed Taliban fighter stands guard at a Mosque in Kabul on September 3 - AFP

“At that time there was no opportunity for us to govern properly, because there was a lot of fighting. This time, it will be a little bit different, but we have our Islamic law,” he said.

Many in Kabul do not believe them. Nearly three weeks after the Taliban takeover, Kabul's streets are still noticeably quiet, though gradually getting busier. Women in particular are seen less than they were. During the Taliban's 1990s regime, women were not allowed to work outside the home, or leave without a male chaperone, and girls' schools were banned.

As the commander was speaking to The Telegraph, across town a small group of women's rights activists was holding a protest, which was broken up by the militants' special forces firing into the air. The women's march began peacefully with a wreath-laying outside Afghanistan's Defence Ministry to honour Afghan soldiers who died fighting the Taliban.

Film of the protest showed the women being jostled and shouting: “Why are you beating us!”. Local news channels later showed a protestor bleeding from a gash on her head.

For the Taliban foot soldiers in Kabul there was either incomprehension at the protests, or hostility.

“Those women are Westernised and they want a Western government and they are against Islamic law. In Islam there's great respect for women. I wonder why they are protesting,” said one young fighter from Kapisa also standing outside the British embassy.

Almost all said they viewed the Americans and British as invaders and infidels and said it had been impossible for their troops to remain in Afghanistan.

“They are infidels and we don't want infidel soldiers in our country and they don't respect our law and our culture,” said one.

But they were also curious to talk to a British journalist and drink tea. Asked about how they were paid by the Taliban, they claimed they did not fight for salaries and only received food while they were fighting.

Warning for the West

“This emirate will be forever,” chimed in another of Nisar's fighters. “The West should not come another time. If they do, we will fight for another 20 years.”

As the Taliban continued to get to grips with Kabul, the militants clashed with opposition forces holding out in the Panjshir valley north of the city.

With all phone lines cut to the rugged valley, it was difficult to determine how far the Taliban had reached. An international aid group called Emergency said the militants had pushed into the valley as far as the village of Anabah, where the charity runs a hospital.

“Many people have fled from local villages in recent days,” a statement said.

A spokesman for the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan, which groups opposition forces loyal to local leader Ahmad Massoud, said Taliban forces reached the Darband heights on the border between Kapisa province and Panjshir, but were pushed back.

Taliban forces stand guard in front of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul - Reuters
Taliban forces stand guard in front of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul - Reuters

A Taliban source told Reuters fighting was continuing in Panjshir, but that the advance had been slowed by landmines placed on the road to the capital Bazarak and the provincial governor's compound.

Meanwhile, hopes were raised that the country's humanitarian crisis could be eased after Qatar's ambassador to Afghanistan said a technical team was able to reopen Kabul airport to receive aid.

Qatar's Al Jazeera news channel also reported that domestic flights had restarted after the airport's runway had been repaired. Flights resumed to Mazar-i-Sharif and Kandahar, it was reported.

Kabul airport had been closed since the end of the massive rescue airlift of foreign nationals and Afghans who had helped the doomed international mission to prop up Ashraf Ghani's government. Thousands of vulnerable Afghans failed to get out and are now trapped with flights stopped and land borders either closed or overrun with crowds.

Qatar's Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, speaking at a joint news conference with Britain's Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab in Doha last week said the Gulf state was talking to the Taliban and working with Turkey for potential technical support to restart operations in Kabul airport.