When the Taliban came, Kabul fell silent and women covered their heads

Eyewitness: Sarah Horner saw fate catch up with Dr Najibullah
Click to follow
The Independent Online
The walkie-talkie crackles to life: "Five people are here in the UN compound, they want to see our special guest.'' "Who are these people?'' comes the reply. ''Taliban.''

We are crouched in a cellar in Kabul. The city is in darkness. Those with generators have them turned off, rapid exchanges of gunfire are interspersed with eerie silence.

The compound is in the centre of the city. There Dr Najibullah, the former president of Afghanistan, has sheltered for four and a half years since ousted by the mujahedin - a special guest that no one could agree what to do with.

The chilling interchange means only one thing: Kabul has fallen. Out on the main road from the east a huge column of tanks is rolling towards the centre. The people are emerging from their shelters, there is cheering and a cacophony of car horns.

Rumours race about the fate of the president. The victorious Taliban have taken him away, and soon afterwards they returned for his brother.

Dawn breaks and we know. Outside the presidential palace the former president's body dangles on a wire cord hung from a six-metre-high platform from which a policeman would normally be directing traffic. The back of his head is missing and he has been peppered with bullets. Beside him hangs his brother Shahpur Ahmadzai, dressed in smart jeans.

Below this grotesque display a party of sorts is going on. The place is packed with Afghans who have come by bike or car to watch and cheer. "Death to the communists,'' they chant. "Najib killed our people."

There are not many women in the crowd. The few girls are wearing scarves. The arrival of the Taliban will mean big changes for the female population - they enforce a strict vision of Islam. In areas under their control they have closed girls' schools, and banned women from most jobs. Women are often not even allowed to go shopping without being accompanied by a male relative. Already yesterday women are being told they are barred from working in offices.

The bodies remain under the hot sun, while inside the palace the Taliban militia rifle through stocks of uniforms and weapons, and trucks piled with missile launchers are parked outside the gate. By nightfall the militia appear to be in full control and announce it is setting up an Islamic state. Life appears to be rapidly returning to normal, with the streets crowded and shops and markets open. The tanks have been pulled back to the side streets.

People laden with belongings are returning to their homes in the eastern suburbs. All key government installations appear to be in Taliban hands, including the ministries of defence, of security and of foreign affairs. The government forces which abandoned the city hours before the Taliban entered are nowhere to be seen.

Tide of the Taliban, page 10

Najibullah obituary, page 16

Comments