Two and a half years later, on September 27, 1996, Mariam awakens to the sound of firecrackers and music: the Taliban have arrived. She’d first heard of the Taliban two years earlier: the Pashtun guerrillas often raised in refugee camps along the Pakistani border, led by the one-eyed Mullah Omar.
As often is the case, a new chapter begins with a shift in the political environment. The Taliban are described through their ethnic loyalties, but also clearly developed within the unstable political context of Mariam and Laila’s lifetimes.
Rasheed admits that the Taliban have no past or home, but they can only be better than the corrupt, greedy Mujahideen. Unlike the Mujahideen, the Taliban are united, and he welcomes their arrival.
Rasheed rarely seems to have a sophisticated understand of Afghanistan’s political affairs, but his attitude reflects a general weariness with the constant fighting of the Mujahideen.
The four of them go out that day, and see others emerging from the rubble, shouting Allah-u-akbar and “Long live the Taliban!” In Pashtunistan Square, Mariam sees her first Talib, a bearded young man in a black turban. Aside him two bloody men are hanging from ropes: the former Communist leader Najibullah and his brother. Later she’ll learn that the Taliban had dragged him from his UN sanctuary and had tortured him for hours before dragging his body through the streets. The Talib announces through the loudspeaker that this is what will be done to infidels who commit crimes against Islam, and Rasheed smirks as he listens.
While others are celebrating the arrival of a new leadership and the hope for a better future that accompanies it, Mariam is, as usual, acutely aware of the suffering and loss that has gone with this transition in power. Unlike Rasheed, she takes no pleasure in this suffering. But what she has learned about the torture and death of Najibullah is stated calmly, matter-of-factly, as if it was simply necessary to baldly face the horrors rather than pretending they didn’t exist.
The next day, trucks fill the streets of Kabul, and a message about the implementation of Shari’a law can be heard from the loudspeakers and on the radio. Men must grow their beards and wear turbans; everyone must pray five times a day; and no singing, dancing, or kite-flying is allowed. Stealing will be punished by having one’s hand cut off, and women will be beaten if they go outside alone. They cannot wear jewelry or makeup, and must not make eye contact with men. Girls are forbidden from attending school.
Laila and Mariam have already suffered from the Shari’a law implemented by the Mujahideen. The Taliban, however, has taken these rules to another level. The bans and laws apply to everyone, limiting Kabulis and other Afghans in general, but women are disproportionately affected by the twisted attempt to protect women’s “honor.”
Laila says that they can’t shut down half the population in Kabul, where women have practiced law and medicine and have worked in government. Rasheed calls her arrogant, telling her that she knows nothing about the “real” Afghanistan, where such laws have always been vigorously upheld.
Unlike Mariam, Laila has lived her entire life in cosmopolitan, progressive Kabul, and finds it difficult to believe that this is the new reality—even if Rasheed has already acted according to these laws in his own household.