MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
When the Taliban held their first press conference in Kabul, they made a lot of promises - promises about women and their right to work, promises of amnesty for enemies and promises that people would be allowed to leave Afghanistan safely if they want to. That was yesterday. And today in Afghanistan, we're tracking early indications that the reality on the ground may not match those promises. We have reached journalist Bilal Sarwary in Kabul. Hi there.
BILAL SARWARY: Hi. Good to talk to you.
KELLY: And to you. Start with Kabul, since that's where you are. What does it look like? What does it feel like? What's the latest today?
SARWARY: Well, Kabul is a city where life is picking up slowly but surely. Today I was able to go to the Afghanistan International Bank, which would usually be packed with, you know, dozens of people, even during the corona pandemic, people waiting for cash, the ATM machines. Today there was no money. ATM machines have been empty. And there was a couple from Kabul. There was a 57-year-old woman who was sarcastically saying, now the Taliban have to make sure that the bank systems operate as well. Afghans usually, you know, keep their money in their pillows. But over the last 20 years, you know, banking system has grown. I was also able to speak to a taxi driver who said that it takes him now less time or even no time to get people from one side of the city to the other.
KELLY: Are you seeing women out and about?
SARWARY: I do - in smaller numbers, not in bigger numbers. Today I was able to go to the Slice Bakery, a coffee shop in the central part of Kabul City that was known and is known for hosting young people. I noticed, like, several members of the Taliban's political office behind them, several Afghan women, young girls were sitting, and they were all having coffee. So I hope that is the situation outside of coffee shops like that. I hope that's like the new Afghanistan.
When you talk about the thousands of its foot soldiers on the streets of Kabul with rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns and hand grenades, these are fighters from all across the country who have been in rural areas fighting some of the most bloodiest attacks of the last 20 years. Suddenly, they have found themselves in an urban center like Kabul. Most of them haven't seen it. Today I was talking to one Taliban fighter from northeastern Afghanistan. He said he had lost five to six members of his family. So there are realities like that as well.
KELLY: Yeah. What have you been able to confirm of the situation at the airport? We are hearing flights are now leaving. People are getting out. But we're also hearing reports of violence at Taliban checkpoints on the road to the airport.
SARWARY: It is chaotic. I was able to speak few hours ago to one family that was trying to leave for the U.S. And they said that outside, there were Taliban commanders and fighters. There's a crowd of people. Apparently, some people have come in and opened printing shops, you know, mobile printing shops so that people can print their documents and show them at the gate. There's more order to it than the previous days, but still, gunfire in the air to disperse people, crowds of people trying to jump on the blast walls - very, very high onto the other side - or also, you know, being fired at by the 01 units formerly known as the counterterrorism pursuit teams. Some of them have been asked by the Americans to come here and provide security. Eventually, they will also be flown to the U.S. So at least there was one dead man in the early hours of this morning, and his relatives couldn't be found. A lot of people simply don't feel safe to make it to the airport.
KELLY: Let me shift you to Jalalabad - big city. It's about 90 miles east of Kabul. And I was watching video of a crowd today out protesting, trying to lower the Taliban flag and raise the Afghan flag. What happened?
SARWARY: People went and took down the Taliban flag and replaced it with a national flag. There's a massive meaning in this flag, which is made of three colors. So the red means that a lot of blood has been shed. The black means that the country has seen a lot of sorrow, and the green means that the country has got its independence. At least that's how we were brought up as kids. And over the years, we have seen Afghans taking pride, for example, in the cricket team, in the soccer team and athletes all around the world over the last 20 years. But at the same time, the Taliban flag, the white flag that represents the Islamic Emirate, also has its own supporters.
KELLY: Yeah. I mean, you're describing why it was quite such a big deal to raise one flag and lower another. So what happened in Jalalabad as all this unfolded? We're seeing reports that people were shot.
SARWARY: Taliban soldiers shot dead at least three young people. We were being told at least 13, 14 people were wounded. Two reporters from Pajhwok news agency were beaten up. They recorded a video crying, saying, what is our fault, you know? In the eastern city of Asadabad, the capital of Kunar province, three young boys were shot by the Taliban. They were being treated at the hospital. So the Taliban also have to learn how to police. You know, this is no more the fighting. Perhaps that's the challenge for them as well. But this also shows you that the Taliban will face - will continue to face such issues. And that is perhaps also another area that I would like to use the let's-see factor because every hour, every other day, every other moment, things change so fast.
KELLY: That's the journalist Bilal Sarwary speaking to us from Kabul. Thank you very much for your time. Thank you for your reporting.
SARWARY: Good to talk to you. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.