Asia

The girl who secretly filmed the Taliban

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Media captionMiss Sadat's footage of the conversation with the Taliban gunman

Mobile phone footage of a Taliban encounter on one of Afghanistan's safest highways has given a rare glimpse of the risks travellers face in the country.

A young student was travelling from her home in Mazar-e Sharif back to university in Kabul when her coach was stopped at an insurgent road block.

Hiding her phone from view, she filmed the brief conversation between a Taliban gunman and other passengers, later posting it on social media.

The student, Miss Sadat (not her full name), started the eight-hour trip to Kabul at dawn, despite warnings that the road might be dangerous following the recent fighting in the northern city of Kunduz.

The route from Balkh province to the capital leads through open plains as well as mountain areas, including the famous Salang pass. It is deemed one of the safest in the country, unlike roads in the south and east.

Image caption Miss Sadat explained later to the BBC why she decided to film the encounter

The highway is often busy with about 20 passenger buses making the trip every day. It is a cheaper alternative to flights, costing about a 10th of the price of an air ticket.

About half way into the trip, in Baghlan province, Miss Sadat says she noticed that the road appeared to be busy ahead.

'Sixth sense'

"I was expecting that something [was] going to happen," she told the BBC during an interview later in Kabul, citing a "sixth sense". She started filming on her mobile phone.

Miss Sadat, who grew up abroad while the Taliban were in government, says she had never seen or met a single member of the group or even dreamed of ever seeing one.

But that was about to change as the coach was stopped at an improvised insurgent road block.

The student says the checkpoint was surrounded by fighters with what seemed like big weapons on their shoulders. One of the armed men then boarded the bus and started chatting to the passengers, partly in Persian, partly in Pashto, the country's two main languages.

Miss Sadat recorded the entire exchange.

Image caption A rare glimpse of a Taliban encounter was caught on this student's mobile phone

The area of Chashmaye-Shir where the bus was stopped is close to a fork in the road with one branch heading north-east towards Kunduz, the city recently taken and held for several days by insurgents.

The phone camera catches the Taliban fighter's face from below as Miss Sadat moved the mobile on her lap, but the entire conversation is recorded.

The tone is polite with the fighter saying he hopes the passengers are well - they in turn wish him well.

A conversation ensues with a female passenger who does not wear a burqa, the full body veil that was a requirement for women when the Taliban were in power.

Asked whether he is Pashtun - the ethnic group most Taliban belong to - the man says ethnicity is not important.

"It doesn't make any difference. There's no Pashto or Farsi or Uzbek or Turkmen. I'm a countryman," he is heard saying to approving noises from some of the passengers.

"All Muslims are brothers, even if one is Russian, as long as he's Muslim he's our brother. No problem."

'No cannibals'

The gunman then asks whether there are any army or government militia on board.

A woman's voice denies this and assures him they all are civilians, with some seeking medical treatment in Kabul.

The Taliban fighter is then heard saying that people working for the government should leave their jobs and will be unharmed if they do so.

As he leaves the coach he says that claims the Taliban are brutal are not true.

"Some people say the Taliban are cannibals," he says as passengers laugh nervously. "I'm a Talib, and not a cannibal."

But he adds: "I'd eat the heads of Americans."

A second encounter

It's only when the man leaves the coach that one of the passengers is heard saying, "Thank goodness he's gone."

Miss Sadat says there was a sense of relief among the travellers, but it lasted for only a few seconds - then the coach was stopped again.

The student says she was now very afraid, thinking that maybe the Taliban gunman had seen her filming the encounter.

"Another gunman got on the bus and came towards me," she recalls. "But then he pointed to a rug which was in front of me in the drivers' area and asked for it to be removed."

She says the rug had a picture of a half-naked woman on it.

Image caption Drivers say that security has deteriorated on main roads since the battle for Kunduz

Eventually the bus continued its journey and Miss Sadat made it safely to Kabul.

After posting the video, she received many messages, some praising her, others critical.

"Some say well-done, you are brave, good luck, we are proud of you and things like this," she says.

"But some others say, you took a risk, you put the life of passengers in danger, don't do this again."

She says she just filmed because the situation was interesting and she wanted to share it with family and friends.

"The Taliban want to show to people that they have become good, they want to win people's hearts," she says, adding she remains unconvinced.

The Taliban leadership has repeatedly said that the movement will attack only government officials, security forces and foreign troops, but will leave civilians unharmed.

During the seizure of Kunduz, a statement from Taliban leader Mullah Mansour asked fighters to respect the lives and property of citizens.

But UN reports regularly blame the insurgent movement for the majority of deaths amongst ordinary Afghans.

A spokesman for the transport company running services on the Kabul-Mazar highway told the BBC that their buses had been stopped by Taliban on that road several times.

"The insecurity on the highways, especially after Kunduz fell [to the Taliban], affects all our lives," said the driver, who did not want to be named.

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