Closed markets where a few elders and lost animals roam in the dust: along its main road, the Afghan province of Panchir unrolls ghost villages, deserted since its brutal conquest by the Taliban enemies.
Sitting under the awning of a stall with the curtain down, Abdul Ghafoor, a 50-year-old farmer, contemplates his deserted village of Peshjrur, as if frozen by the scorching sun.
Before the arrival of the Taliban at the end of August, "nearly 100 families lived" on this rocky hillside which dominates the valley, he explains. “There are only three left now. Everyone fled, most of them to Kabul, ”he continues.
Below, in Malaspa, on a green meadow bordering the Panchir river where the villagers met at all hours of the day, there is no living soul, apart from a donkey and Khol Mohammad, 67 years old, who s' approach with a limp.
He also confirms: “A few families stayed, but about eighty others left.
The picture is the same in three districts visited by AFP Wednesday.
The province has seven, including others less strategic and more remote where the intrusion of the Taliban was less massive and disputed, and the exodus less important, according to local sources.
"There are only the old and the poor who cannot afford to leave"
Along the Panchir River, only a few rare stalls, often bakeries, are open. The rest is just a row of shops and houses with closed doors, along which graze a few goats, donkeys or more or less abandoned horses. "There is no one left, except the elders, and the poor who cannot afford to leave," said Abdul Wajid, 30, who stayed behind to watch over the family home. No one except the Taliban fighters stationed at roadblocks or rushing down the road, crammed into jeeps or pick-ups seized from the former government.
A sight of horror for the Panchiris, who until now prided themselves on never having let anyone enslave their valley.
And especially not the Taliban, their sworn enemies for more than 20 years and the time of their famous commander Ahmad Shah Massoud.
Some, led by Massoud's son Ahmad, tried to resist.
Along the road, the twisted and overturned carcasses of vehicles destroyed by rockets and other heavy weapons bear witness to this.
But the Taliban, more numerous and better equipped, in a few days pushed them back into the surrounding mountains, before declaring victory in early September.
Resistance persists, but it is not known what remains of it, and even if its leaders are still in the country.
The exodus of the Panchiris had started before the summer, in the face of the inexorable advance of the Taliban. But at the end of August, the sight of thousands of their overarmed fighters suddenly appearing from everywhere in hundreds of vehicles caused panic. "People were really afraid that the Taliban would arrest them, beat them or kill them," said Khair Mohammad, 60, a former Peshjrur man. Their first brutal steps finally convinced those who still hesitated. “The Taliban have asked some families to leave their homes and settle there next to their roadblocks. In our village, they entered all the houses, broke the windows and cupboards, ”says Kabir Khan, who lives near the provincial capital Bazarak.
The Islamists have especially, according to all the inhabitants met by AFP, marked their arrival by killing civilians.
Near Khenj, "they shot a driver behind the wheel of his car, and a father who had gone to look for food for his children," said an elder, saying he saw the remains.
In three other points, located between Khenj and Bazarak, the inhabitants count at least 19 murders of villagers.
Balance sheets impossible to verify, and that the Taliban deny, affirming that no civilians were killed, apart from clashes with the resistance fighters.
Other residents did not support the presence of Islamists in their homes.
"How do you expect us to leave our family here when the Taliban are at the end of the garden?"
People no longer feel free and prefer to go to Kabul, ”explains Haji Mohammad Younus, 75, the only man crossed in his village of Omerz.
The new masters of Panchir
A persistent rumor has also circulated in the valley, claiming that the Taliban are asking residents to leave, which the latter deny outright.
"We tell people that they can come back to their homes and that they will not be bothered," said a Taliban commander met in Khenj.
According to Kabir Khan, the new masters of Panchir even asked the families who remained "to go to Kabul to persuade their relatives to return".
Our Afghanistan dossier
They are now preventing residents from leaving the province, according to several residents.
On Wednesday, AFP saw a truck loaded with mattresses and furniture turn back after trying to get out of the valley.
Near Khenj, an elder suspects a strategic reason: “The Taliban prefer that there remain villagers in order to have human shields and not be bombarded by the resistance.
Afghanistan: What we know about the Taliban's political program
Afghanistan: First international commercial flight since Taliban return lands in Kabul
20 minutes video