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What did Afghans gain — and lose — in a region that supported the Taliban?

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The way the Taliban takeover looks depends on where you are in Afghanistan. We looked at the aftermath in an area where many people fought for the Taliban.

You see one side of Afghanistan here in Kabul, a city of millions with crowded streets and neighborhoods that go up the sides of a mountain valley. We're heading to see a different side of Afghanistan, though, rural Afghanistan, where the conditions and the politics are very different.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NAAZ AO NAKHRE")

NOOR MOHAMMAD KOCHI: (Singing in Pashto).

INSKEEP: We drove Highway 1 south out of Kabul into Wardak province.

Really stark landscape, dry mountains, a bit greener down here in the valley. Sometimes we go through groves of trees near the riversides. Every so often, we slowed down to maneuver past broken pavement. Those are the places where the Taliban set bombs on the road throughout a 20-year war.

We'll try not to crash into this bus that's swerving around the hole in the road.

About 50 miles outside Kabul. We entered another world. Turning left into the Tangi Valley. Our producer, Fazelminallah Qazizai, says this valley was once the stronghold of a Taliban commander.

FAZELMINALLAH QAZIZAI, BYLINE: There was a famous incidence that he - when killed some American soldier, then put the legs and arms of some of them in the trees. So anyone driving to the valley could see them.

INSKEEP: Hung them from these trees we're passing now?

QAZIZAI: Hung them, yes. Yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF WATER FLOWING)

INSKEEP: We drove up into the valley, where water flows through irrigation ditches, sustaining crops of apricots, peaches, potatoes and tomatoes. Between the tidy green fields, people live in mud-walled homes...

(SOUNDBITE OF METAL CREAKING)

INSKEEP: ...And a man named Morsalin welcomed us into his guest room. He's well-off, with a black turban and solar panels on the roof to power his well. He's decorated this room with a poster showing photos of Taliban leaders, including that famous commander, Fazal Rabi.

He's holding the leg of an American soldier?

MORSALIN: Yes.

QAZIZAI: And this is his brother.

INSKEEP: And this is Fazal Rabi.

MORSALIN: It was leader of American - first (ph).

INSKEEP: It would be hard to prove the leg in that picture was from an American. U.S. troops try never to leave their dead behind. But the Taliban did kill Americans in this valley, once shooting down a helicopter with 38 people on board. Americans also killed many Taliban, including the famous commander and his successor and his successor.

Every man on this poster is dead.

QAZIZAI: Yes.

INSKEEP: We sat on the floor with surviving Taliban fighters.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)

INSKEEP: One of them took out his phone and showed us old video of American soldiers firing into this same valley. It is video taken from an American base where troops seem to be shooting indiscriminately at a village. The fighter is Hadiatullah Wahadat.

HADIATULLAH WAHADAT: (Through interpreter) Yes, I did jihad against the U.S. forces, and for five times I was wounded during the fight.

INSKEEP: He says he fought for years in this valley and beyond, wherever they sent him. He fought Americans. He fought the old Afghan government and even the Taliban's enemies in the Islamic State.

What do you feel that you won in the end?

WAHADAT: (Speaking Pashto).

INSKEEP: He said, "we expelled foreigners. We won a triumph. And we achieved an Islamic government." They also captured U.S.-made weapons, like the pistol he showed me.

Smith and Wesson.

QAZIZAI: Yeah.

INSKEEP: Springfield, Mass., USA.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOTORBIKE)

INSKEEP: The former Taliban fighters took us farther up the valley to one of their many shrines to the dead. Fazal Rabi, the famous commander, is buried in a cemetery on a dusty hilltop overlooking his valley. Morsalin, our host, buried his own brother beside him.

Fazal Rabi is here. And this is your brother?

MORSALIN: Yes.

INSKEEP: How many of your brothers died in the war?

MORSALIN: Two.

INSKEEP: Two brothers?

KOCHI: Yes.

INSKEEP: That's a big price to pay.

MORSALIN: Yes. Yes.

INSKEEP: When you think back, was the sacrifice worth it?

MORSALIN: Yes. Why no?

QAZIZAI: Why not?

MORSALIN: Why not?

INSKEEP: The desert sun was beating down, so we sat on the covered porch of a little white mosque by the cemetery.

When the Americans came and then stayed, they talked about democracy and freedom for Afghanistan. Does democracy mean anything to you?

MORSALIN: (Speaking Pashto).

INSKEEP: He said, "democracy comes from man, and Islam comes from God, so Islam is better." The idea that democracy and Islam could be compatible, that the old Afghan government was an Islamic republic was not the way that he thought about it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ENGINE STARTING)

INSKEEP: Later, we drove down out of the valley with Hekmatullah Waqid, a local journalist. He said people in this valley celebrated one year ago when the Taliban took power, but now attitudes are changing.

HEKMATULLAH WAQID: The people of village are not very happy.

INSKEEP: For two big reasons.

WAQID: Not happy for economical problems and girls' education.

INSKEEP: So people in this valley want their girls to go to school?

WAQID: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

INSKEEP: Unlike the old government, the Taliban have not let many girls return to school. They now face democratic pressure - calls from the public, from the media, even from religious scholars - to let girls study.

(SOUNDBITE OF HORNS HONKING)

INSKEEP: We drove on and stopped at a village a little way outside the valley, back along Highway 1. In war time, the Taliban planted bombs on the roadside here. So according to residents, the old Afghan government bulldozed much of the village.

QAZIZAI: Salaam alaikum. Hello.

SHERIF NAZARI: Hello.

INSKEEP: One of the remaining residents came out of his mud-walled house. Sherif Nazari told us he's glad that peace has come, but he added that he's out of work.

NAZARI: I was engineer - a road engineer.

INSKEEP: Nobody has hired this road engineer to fix the battered highway that passes by.

What do you want from the government, if anything?

NAZARI: (Speaking Pashto).

INSKEEP: He says, "the government should pay to rebuild this village." Once, he might have demanded that from the United States and its Afghan allies. Now the U.S. and the old republic are gone, meaning, if anybody pays, it would be the Taliban. The old saying holds that to the victors go the spoils. And that may be true, though something else went to the victors in Afghanistan. They also faced the expectations of the people and the responsibility of governing if they can.

(SOUNDBITE OF QAIS ESSAR'S "UNTITLED") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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