KUNDUZ, AFGHANISTAN - A bulldozer was busy clearing up the burnt remains of a shop destroyed during more than a week of fighting. Nearby, a man sold vegetables on a cart amidst heaps of charred bricks. Almost two weeks after the Afghan government, with NATO support, managed to fend off a Taliban attempt in early October to take over Kunduz city, residents were trying to get their lives back together.
Even though the Taliban failed to take over the city the way it did for a few days in 2015, the fighting, and the subsequent looting, destroyed many businesses. Residents complained of the high costs that war had imposed on them.
“A loaf of bread has shot up from five to 30 Afghanis. One liter of gas has gone up 50 to 80, so gas is now 300 Afghanis,” Shafiqullah, a resident of Kunduz, protested.
In the city square, a traffic policeman blew his whistle to direct the unruly traffic as bicycles weaved their way in and out of rows of cars and rickshaws; three-wheeled taxis popular in the region.
The main bazaar was full of pedestrians. Carts selling roasted corn or other snacks blocked the footpaths. Smoke, along with the appetizing whiff of roast meat, rose from a shop selling kebabs, a staple Afghan dish.
A casual glance on the streets gave an impression that things were usual, but locals said they continued to live under a cloud of fear and uncertainty. Few seemed to have confidence in the government’s ability to protect them against the Taliban.
“They can come anytime they want,” said Mohammad Idrees, speaking in local Dari language. “All entrances to the city are open. My house is in danger at night. No one is here to stop them. There is no police, nobody to stop them entering the city.”
His concerns seemed legitimate. It looked like most of the security - the Humvees, the tanks, the trucks, the personnel - were concentrated in the city center, with little presence towards the outskirts.
The road that the VOA team took from nearby Baghlan province to Kunduz last Friday afternoon also seemed to have little security presence. Convoys of destroyed trucks and trailers every few kilometers provided evidence of Taliban attacks, but most of the police checkposts, several of them half destroyed from past fighting, were vacant.
Taliban militants are known to randomly set up illegal checkpoints on that and other roads leading to Kunduz, especially early mornings and after dark, to stop traffic going into or coming out of the city.
It seemed easy for them to do so. The districts surrounding Kunduz city still have heavy Taliban presence with areas considered sympathetic to it. An illegal checkpoint could mean something as simple as a couple of Taliban members walking or driving up to the road on their motorbikes from a nearby village and waving their AK-47s to stop traffic.
Afghan government and its NATO allies seem confident the Taliban would not be able to run over Kunduz, but that has done little to reassure the population.
“People’s shops are destroyed, businesses have shut down, people are living in fear,” said Musa Jan describing life in Kunduz. “People think there will be more attacks and the city will collapse again.”