For days, Taliban leaders have told us that no celebrations are scheduled for August 15, the day their fighters will land in the capital.
“It’s for you and the West,” a senior official told us. “Our celebration is for August 31, the day we expelled the foreign forces.”
Organized or not, the taliban had been on the streets since early morning.
From the roof where I first glimpsed their arrival exactly a year ago, I could see their white and black flags attached to trucks, cars and motorbikes, running along the road, honking their horns.
It was supposed to be a day of celebration for the Taliban, but I didn’t see huge crowds in the streets cheering for their 12-month-old success.
Just convoys of their loyal followers and lots and lots of heavily armed fighters.
A year ago the Taliban couldn’t believe they took Kabul so easily. They celebrated then and celebrate now. The day was declared a new holiday, Independence Day as they put it, and they took to the streets in their famous pickup trucks and captured armored vehicles left behind by the United States and its allies of NATO.
For this conquering army, NATO’s greatest failure has never been in doubt. We met a group of men who had traveled to the capital from Helmand Province, they told us they always knew this day would come.
“Yes, we were 100% sure that it would happen, that we would take Kabul and Afghanistan“, they told me when I asked them what this anniversary meant to them.
“The foreign army was fighting us, but we always knew that one day we would conquer again and celebrate.”
Exactly one year later, the Taliban continued a new tradition of televised media event.
It was open to international media, but overwhelmingly frequented by personalities and loyalists.
Special forces soldiers, who guarded the gates and carried out security checks, struggled to hold back people wanting to enter the crowded auditorium which adjoins the US Embassy in the heart of the Green Zone , built by foreign forces over 20 years ago.
This predominantly male gathering was crushed by a handful of mostly foreign reporters, producers and photographers.
At first my producer Dominique Van Heerden was told that women should go upstairs and watch from a balcony, within minutes we realized that was nonsense and she came downstairs and joined a small group of women in the main hall.
The Taliban guards seemed a bit at a loss as to what to do with them, especially since they couldn’t touch them and throw them out – so they just refused to leave and the Taliban gave up.
In the audience, some of the big names in the movement are mostly Taliban royalty, including Anas Haqqani, a powerful 28-year-old leader and negotiator with the United States in Doha.
His arrival sparked a flurry of activity from the press eager for pictures of him. By pure chance, he sat right behind me.
Lackeys begged him to go to the front of the rally, to the VIP seats that had been reserved for people like him.
My Afghan producer told me that he said he wanted to stay where he was because he wasn’t going to stay for the whole event.
At that time, I proposed to my producer to ask him for an interview. He swallowed hard and said “Stuart, it’s better if you ask him and I’ll translate”.
The Haqqani family is very powerful and, for all Afghans, very frightening. So I turned around in my seat, introduced myself and asked if we could have a talk. He looked at me carefully and asked “so what?”.
I said the importance of the day perhaps, and the economic and human rights issues his government faces in the eyes of the West.
He said, “You have two questions, then I’m leaving.”
After about 45 minutes he tapped me on the shoulder and waved me out.
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The Sky News crew left the auditorium en masse.
In his interview with Sky News, he hinted at a compromise on the issue of girls’ education, but said they needed time.
“There is no politics involved in this, and in time this issue will be resolved,” he told me.
“We want the international community and other institutions not to use it negatively, or use it against us, and that shouldn’t be a condition of aid.”
These are nuanced things, but for a member of the Haqqani family – an ultra-conservative group – this is a big deal.
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For Western governments to accept this would be a huge leap of faith. But there is a growing consensus among some governments and NGOs that doing nothing and leaving thousands of people to die of starvation, lack of medical facilities and the freezing winter cold here, would be unacceptable.
But back on the streets, for the foot soldiers celebrating outside the now mothballed US Embassy, a symbol of the failed campaign to change Afghanistan, none of those complicated issues really matter.
In truth, many of these Taliban were babies when the war broke out.
A trillion dollars and 21 years later… they have total control.