Afghanistan’s third largest city fell without a fight on Thursday as government forces withdrew and rebels detained Herat’s famous warlord Ismail Khan.
With fears of violent reprisals growing as the Taliban neared a complete takeover of the country, Afghan soldiers – nearly all in civilian clothes – gathered in Herat on Saturday to try to secure a letter of amnesty.
Inside the office where the governor of Herat once lived, Taliban members sat on sofas – some carrying US military rifles – while they jotted down names and reviewed menus spread on a glass-topped coffee table.
Someone wrote pardon notes on Taliban letterhead – some long-term, some only valid for a few days.
An Afghan soldier in the compound told AFP that his unit had been surrounded by the Taliban before the city fell. Now he just wants security.
“I came here to get a letter of amnesty to get out of the city,” Ahmed Shahidi said. “Until I find a place where I can stay safe in the future.”
Najibullah Karukhi, a Taliban member, said about 3,000 people had been pardoned.
“Those from other provinces will be provided with a three-day temporary amnesty letter so that they can reach their home provinces, where they need to obtain another long-term amnesty letter from our officials,” he said.
In the shaded part of the courtyard of the complex, hundreds sat in patience while a man carrying pardon slips shouted names one by one to be collected.
The vulgar bureaucratic process belied the astonishing speed and efficiency of the Taliban’s victories Afghanistan.
The fear of Taliban retaliation is not unfounded: the insurgents imposed harsh punishments on opponents, and anyone who violated their harsh version of Islamic law when they were in power from 1996 to 2001.
They have recently been accused of war crimes, including massacres of civilians and soldiers outside combat, but the rebels deny committing such atrocities.