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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Town Rejoices as Taliban Flees

TALOQAN, Afghanistan -- In this town just freed from the Taliban by Northern Alliance troops, the busiest spot was Amon's Barbershop, where men lined up to have their beards shaved off.

One after another they came and one after the other the beards fell to the floor. At the end of the day, Amonullah, the proprietor, stood exhausted in a pile of beard cuttings. He smiled when he realized there was one thing he had forgotten to do.

"Tomorrow, I'm going to shave off my own beard," Amonullah said. With that, he closed for the night, capping the busiest day he had ever known.

In the few hours since the Taliban soldiers left this town, a joyous mood has spread. The people of Taloqan, who lived for two years under the Taliban's strict Islamic rule, burst onto the streets to toss off the restrictions that had burrowed into the most intimate aspects of their lives.

Men tossed their turbans into the gutters. Families dug up their long-hidden television sets. Restaurants blared music. Cigarettes flared, and young men talked of growing their hair long.

In the most noticeable change of all, women, clad in their head-to-toe burqas, walked the streets alone, no longer required to have a male relative at their side. They walked by themselves and they walked with each other, their blue, white and red burqas blowing open in the afternoon breeze.

"The Taliban, they were cruel people, and the whole city clapped and cheered when they retreated," said Mohammed Humayun, a 23-year-old pharmacist. "The first thing I did was take my turban off and throw it away. I am going to enjoy my freedom."

Of course, the ebb and flow of armies always produces some quick adaptations of habits and views. Behind the enthusiasm of some residents there possibly lurked a cooler calculation of where their best interest now lay. Still, the joy here was palpable.

Taloqan, a valley town in northeast Afghanistan, fell to the Northern Alliance on Sunday afternoon after troops under General Daoud Khan overran Taliban front lines and secured the defection of an important local warlord.

The Taliban, sensing that its fortunes were changing for the worse, fled the city in a hurry. Daoud and his men rolled into the city at 5:30 p.m., and the townspeople poured into the streets to greet them. The adults threw money and roses, and the children clambered aboard the tanks and trucks.

The Taliban imposed its laws on the city after capturing Taloqan two years ago. All men had to wear beards. No woman could work or go to school or leave the house alone. Television, music and photos of people were banned. Violators were beaten, jailed, mutilated and killed.

Every day, people here said, the turbaned religious police patrolled the streets, wielding rubber whips in search of the most minor of infractions.

The ideology, however harshly imposed, never sunk in, it seems.

Amonullah's last customer of the day was Ismail Istat, who had come to have his beard sheered off. As Amonullah swept his straight razor across Istat's cheeks, his beard joined the large pile of hair on the floor below.

"I've got nothing against beards, you know, and as you can see, I've kept my mustache," said Istat, a shopkeeper. "The problem is when someone tells you that you have to have one. That's why I hated it."