News of the Taliban's surrender of Kandahar -- its last major stronghold -- is being closely followed on the streets of Kabul. As RFE/RL correspondent Charles Recknagel reports from the Afghan capital, optimism is running high that the surrender could mark a major step toward restoring peace in the country.
Kabul, 7 December 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Kabul's municipal stadium is a place where memories of the Taliban's excesses are still very fresh. The stadium was the militia's main execution ground in the capital and, almost every Friday, the scene of at least one or two hangings or beheadings. Ordinary citizens were called out to witness the events, whether they wanted to or not, as reminders that the Taliban's system of justice was harsh, swift, and unforgiving.
The stadium is slowly regaining a sense of normalcy. Today, two local soccer teams took to the field for only the second match since the Taliban abandoned the city to the Northern Alliance early last month.
A sign at the stadium door that used to read the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan Olympic Committee" has been altered to simply read "Islamic Afghanistan Olympic Committee." And many spectators are showing up in jeans and other Western garb banned by the fundamentalist regime.
The crowd poured into the stadium today amid news that the Taliban had just surrendered Kandahar, the last major population center it still held in the country. The Afghan Islamic Press, which has good contacts with the militia, has reported that the Taliban handed over all power in Kandahar to an Afghan tribal council in exchange for a general amnesty from Hamid Karzai.
Karzai is due to become the prime minister of Afghanistan's new interim administration when it takes office on 22 December.
Among those present at today's soccer match was Abdul Rahman Walizada, a member of the Afghan Olympic Committee, which sponsored the game. He says he has been following the developments in Kandahar closely.
"Regarding Kandahar, we've heard about the situation from television and radio and also from people going to Kandahar and coming back."
Walizada says he is very glad Kandahar will be taken out of the Taliban's hands. He added that he has just returned to work as a sportscaster at the stadium after being banned from his job for five years by the Taliban. The militia permitted soccer games during its time in power but forced many of those who worked at the stadium before it took the city in 1996 to step aside.
The sportscaster says he is glad to see the Taliban defeated because he suffered theft and beatings at their hands. He says that when the Taliban took power, militiamen stole furniture and sports equipment from his house and held him prisoner for 25 days, whipping him at times with cables.
Many of the spectators said they, too, are happy that the Taliban has surrendered its last stronghold.
Mohammed Yusef -- who says he fought for the Northern Alliance -- says the surrender marks the end of his own war with the militia.
"Kandahar should be captured because all the people want to start living in peace. [Capturing Kandahar] means the end of the war."
Yusef -- who is a native of the Panjshir Valley -- says he personally battled Taliban forces two years ago in the northern city of Taloqan under ethnic Tajik commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was assassinated in early September.
Abdul Walid, a native of Kabul, also says he welcomes the news from Kandahar. But he says he and many others here also feel sadness over the reports of chaos in the city and of fighting continuing in other parts of the country.
"People in Kabul want peace to come to the entire country, but people also feel unhappy now because they see fighting in any part of the country as something which should come to an end."
There are news reports of looting in Kandahar as the Taliban forces put down their arms. It also remains unclear whether Taliban fighters who have not surrendered will now begin a guerrilla war in the mountains.
The whereabouts of the Taliban's spiritual leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar -- who has disappeared from Kandahar -- are currently unknown. Karzai said today the Taliban leader must face justice.