Once prisoners, the Taliban now lead to a prison in Kabul


Kabul’s main prison used to be full of thousands of Taliban captured or arrested by the government during the long war in Afghanistan.

It was a sign of a sudden and startling new order in Afghanistan after a militant group entered the capital nearly a month ago and ousted a disintegrating US-backed government it had fought for 20 years.

The Taliban now operate Pul-e-Charkhi Prison, a vast complex on the eastern outskirts of Kabul. After capturing the city, the fighters released all the prisoners there, the government guard escaped, and now dozens of Taliban fighters are operating the facility.

The commander, who refused to give a name, was on a personal visit to the complex with a group of his friends. He told the Associated Press that he was arrested about ten years ago in the eastern province of Kunar and brought to Pul-e-Charkhi, blindfolded.

“I feel so horrible when I remember those days,” he said. He said the prisoners suffered abuse and torture. He was in prison for about 14 months before he was released. “Those days are the darkest days of my life, and now this is the happiest moment for me to be free and come here without fear.”

Many Afghans, as well as governments around the world, have been alarmed by the Taliban’s rapid takeover, fearing that the movement will impose a similar, harsh rule as they did during their first rule in the 1990s. But for Taliban fighters, this is a moment to enjoy victory after years of grueling fighting – and to see the city several have entered since the start of the war.

For some of the Taliban guards who followed the AP, it was the first time they had entered abandoned cell blocks. They looked curiously through the cells, still strewn with the things the last prisoners had left behind — the fabrics they shared from the walls and windows, the small rugs, the water bottles.

One fighter swapped sandals for a better pair he found in a cell. Then he found a better couple and exchanged again. Others played with makeshift bars for the weight of former prisoners.

Pul-e-Charkhi had a long, disturbing history of violence, mass executions and torture. Mass graves and torture cells originating from Soviet-assisted governments of the late 1970s and 1980s were discovered. Under U.S.-backed rule, he was better known for poor conditions and overcrowding — his 11 cell blocks were built to house 5,000 prisoners, but were often overcrowded with more than 10,000, including the Taliban and criminals.

Taliban prisoners often complained of abuse and beatings, and there were regular riots. However, they kept their organization behind bars, winning concessions such as access to mobile phones and for a long time outside the cells.

Some of the Taliban now guarding the place were former prisoners. The state guards have fled and dare not return, fearing retaliation. Although the facility is still largely empty, about 60 people have been detained in one section in recent weeks, who guards said were mostly accused of criminals and drug addicts.


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