From 1996 to 2001 few tourists were hanging with Taliban, with few (non Muslim) foreigners let into the country during this period. Ironicallu many western foreigners did come at this time with the country a training ground for Al Qaida.
Then 9-11 happened and the Taliban were ousted in 2001 and travel to Afghanistan became a very risky business, why? Because the Taliban far from defeated wanted control back. Now though you can literally go hanging Taliban in their new internationally unrecognized state.
To read about the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan click here.
And of course the next 15 years were to see a lot of flux and changes within Afghanistan and of course the Taliban. When we first started taking tours to Afghanistan in 2016 things were mellow enough for us to feel safe to take people in, but also still dangerous due to the existence of the then rebel Taliban.
Although they too had changed and were more famous for kidnappings than killing tourists and certainly around the time of ISIS were even seen relative moderates.
YPT hanging with Taliban in 2018
And towards the end of the previous regime this was where things got weird, the Taliban were so common through the country that you would actually meet them – as the story from one of employees in 2018 shows.
“We’d checked into the flight and were in the boarding lounge relaxing and enjoying a nice cold Alkozal Cola when a man wearing all black, a conservative Islamic beard and a general harsh look in his eyes approaches us. He had heard us speaking English but was interested in our story since we were also all wearing traditional Afghani clothing.
We explained we were a tourist group, enjoying Afghanistan very much and had been exploring Kabul and the Panshjir Valley. He asked where we were headed next? One rule we tell all our guests to Afghanistan is under no circumstance discuss future plans with anyone. Regardless of how nice they may seem, regardless of sex or age, do not tell people where we are headed next. Of course, 99.9% of people are going to be lovely, well-wishing individuals. But, it only takes one bad guy to know where we are headed next to put an end to our otherwise enjoyable trip.
In this case, however, he knew exactly where we were headed as he was on the same plane as him. So we told him well Mazar-i-Sharif of course. He then explained that actually, he was Taliban. This, of course, took us by surprise. Our fixer and guide the exceptional, Kausar asked him a few questions and confirmed he was indeed Taliban.
He assured us we shouldn’t be concerned, as he had no issue with us as we were just innocent tourists who were being very respectful to his country and his customs. Especially since we were traveling with locals and wearing local clothing. Expats in Afghanistan normally travel in convoys, with armed protections, private helicopters, and large tanks in tow.
They normally do little to blend in with locals and if anything completely disrupt the life of locals. However, here we were, behaving like any local Afghani would. He also explained that the Taliban’s modus operandi was to target institutions of the state, whether it be police, military, government institutions and of course foreign governments present in Afghanistan. He told us he detested the targeting of normal civilians, Afghan or Foreign.
We continued chatting, appreciating that he definitely had some ‘unique’ views on the situation in Afghanistan. And certainly not a view we usually would hear. It was also clear he was as interested in us as we were with him, so he suggested we take some happy snaps together. He very much enjoyed taking pictures with the boys, holding our hands up high, shaking them as if making a peace agreement. However, he clearly felt a lot more uncomfortable with the girls, keeping a very stern face and a comfortable distance. It was then, unfortunately, time to board our flight”
The end of tourism to Afghanistan
Alas it was Covid, rather than Islamic fundamentalists that put paid to travel to Afghanistan and it was also during this time that the western backed government fell. Thousands of words could be written about this shambles, but the fall was spectacular and ushered in Taliban 2.0.
Tourism though would have to wait for a while and by 2022 the odd crazy traveler was reporting having been let in, usually with hand written visas. This continued to change until groups, like our slowly started to filter in.
Now while not exactly breaking the rafters tourism to Afghanistan is indeed back, and to an extent safer than before.
Hanging with Taliban in 2022/2023
YPT are a company that take people to places like North Korea, Syria, Eritrea and indeed Taliban Afghanistan. We therefore like to consider ourselves as apolitical (as a company) and promoters of people to people exchanges. Therefore what we write should not ben seen as an endorsement of the Taliban government.
We also realise there are ethical issues with regards to visiting Afghanistan, but we also realise that this is your choice to make.
So, what is it like hanging with the Taliban in present times and what is a Taliban Tour like? The Taliban now, for their faults are not the tTaliban of 1996 – 2001 and can be considered Taliban light. This does not mean liberal, but they are more akin to Saudi Arabia in 2001 than Afghanistan at the same time.
A tour here is though very much guided and subject to Islamic law. You will not drink, nor smoke hashish in modern Afghanistan. It is though still a fascinating place and you will be hanging with the Taliban, listening to their view on things and indeed getting a rare chance to ask questions. You might not agree with what they stand for, but you can ask and listen, something we advise in most countries who go to.
Are there still dangers in Afghanistan?
So, while Afghanistan is now much safer, they are still not exactly friends with the west and you will be expected to follow their laws and customs. There is of course the former government, who are now rebels fighting, rather than hanging with Taliban, although they into way target foreigners (who are financing them).
Ironically it is “extremist” elements in Afghanistan that pose the biggest threat, such as the Afghan branch of ISIS. The true irony? The Taliban are now the moderates….
Always be careful what you wish for when you overthrow a regime.
Want to see Afghanistan for yourself? Check out our Afghanistan Tours.