New the Taliban governor , who spent years in as commander in fighting the British at Sangin, greets visitors with an assault rifle lying on his desk.The time for fighting is over.
He has a message for the British and the rest of NATO: recognize the Taliban as the legitimate rulers of the country. 'Afghanistan, then come back, but with money, not weapons.
" We clashed in combat, we didn 't get to know each other in normal times, "said Talib Mawlawi, a native of Helmand who fought for the Taliban when the group first fought. controlled Afghanistan. "Now you can win our hearts and make us happy if you recognize this government.
Now that the Taliban have taken control of Lashkar Gar, the capital of Helmand, fighting has ceased for the first time in two decades. The vast majority of the 457 British soldiers who died in the long war perished here in this province as they fought to hold the talibans from a distance.
Like most of Afghanistan, however, Helmand is on the brink of economic collapse. And like Taliban officials across the country, its governor is calling on foreign governments to help close the gap.
"All of these foreign countries have invaded and killed our women and our children and our elderly, and destroyed everything, "he said. Now the international community must help us with humanitarian aid and focus on the development of education, business and commerce. "
" The international community is helping countries that have the support of their civilians. We have broug ht, and we have the support of our people, then they should help us and recognize our government.group is faced with the task of leading the war-torn country.
Government salaries have not been paid for several weeks, straddling the last month of the old rule and the first month of the new one. Many people who worked for foreign NGOs have fled or their projects have stopped, restaurants are half empty and business in stores is slow.
big question hangs over the prospect of foreign aid is whether women will be able to work and study. Before the Taliban took over all of Afghanistan, the panels of the Helmand regions they already controlled, like Sangin, were dark, with no education for girls.
But with leadership changed or adapted to international opinion and the cost of denying all girls an education, primary schools across the country have been orderedto reopen their doors. Lashkar Gah does not seem to be an exception; girls were at their desks in a school the Guardian visited unexpectedly.
Higher education will also reopen to women, although separated by gender and with a stricter dress code. "The government advised them not to come as free as before, they should wear the Arab burqa or hijab.
It is less clear whether high schools would reopen for girls, or women working outside of health care and education could return to work. Mawlawi said he would follow the central government on these issues. “The ministries still have meetings for this, not yet finished; whatever they say we will. "
He has spent most of the last 20 years fighting for control of Helmand. during this period, the Taliban weree accused of targeting civilians, including one of Helmand's leading journalists, Elyas Dayee, who was killed in a bomb attack last fall.
The Taliban denied this. attack, but Mawlawi admitted that a few months ago, before settling into the comfortable USAid-funded seat in Lashkar Gah, a meeting with a British journalist would have gone very differently.
"I was a commander in Sangin, when we were fighting against the British," he said. “We were fighting them only two kilometers away, all the inhabitants of the neighborhood were helping us. They weren't interested in the presence of the British, ”he said. After Sangin fell under the control of the Taliban, he left to fight in Musa Qala.
He insists that now people can rebuild in peace, the people will be able to earn a living. "There were 20years of fighting so it will take some time to get back to normal. "
Security is welcomed by residents of Lashkar Gah after heavy fighting in the provincial capital which has destroyed many homes. But people worry about the economy and wonder if the Taliban will try to take back their ruthless control over people's lives.
Samiullah, 26, runs a shop in the women's bazaar area, selling jewelry and decorations. "My first question to the British, please acknowledge our government and give us economic aid. "
He welcomes the safety " everyone in this town has given to someone, no family s ' escaped, ”he said, but has also heard the stories about the Taliban's previous rule, including their controls on everything from beard length to bans on card gamess. "I hope they don 't interfere in our personal lives.
Parts of the economy have also remained precarious with government collapse. People with ties to the British and NGOs - often those with money to spend - fled the country.
Khatera, who has four children, was a widow when her soldier husband was killed in action earlier this year. She started cleaning and doing laundry for some of the city's wealthiest families in order to make a living, but most of her former employers have now fled.
The small perks she received as a military widow also stopped. With no money to pay the rent, and no parents to house them, the family sleeps in the bazaar.
"I have no problem with the Taliban , my children need to eat. The last gGovernment has been recognized by the whole world, now they must recognize this one so that they can help us. "
It 's the same message that Mawlawi wants to be left behind. "Our final message to all NATO countries is: we have helped them. They should be grateful that we gave them a chance to leave peacefully, we could have arrested them so that they could have been arrested. they cannot leave without a fight. And they should recognize our government. ”