In the 17 years since the start of the Afghan war, Taliban-occupied territory has remained a part of the world shrouded from public view and something of a no-go zone for Western reporters.

Despite this, Clarissa Ward, chief international correspondent, CNN, managed to gain a rare insight into everyday life there, having spent 36 hours with the Taliban.

With peace talks between the US and the Taliban gaining momentum, Ward was invited by the Taliban to visit a region under their control and sit down for interview with them. It was also made possible with the guidance of award-winning Afghan journalist and filmmaker Najibullah Quraishi.

In a podcast with, Ward explained that being a woman was key in making this story happen, as any male Western journalist attempting the same thing would have been met with suspicion and hostility.

"For a man who, like me, has very obviously Western physical appearance, I don't think it would have been possible to do that story, because Western males are viewed as spies. They're viewed as combatants, they're viewed as hostile and they attract an enormous amount of attention in these areas.

"Because we were women under Najibullah's jurisdiction, there is a level of 'those are your women, they are your problem and business' attitude. We were Taliban men's 'property' for the 36 hours we spent there, which meant we had a degree of protection, not just in terms of security but in terms of people asking us questions or interfering."

This is a context Ward anticipated and accepted coming in. It did mean she was able to land interviews that would never have been possible for a male counterpart.

"This is a culture, and this is not limited to the Taliban. In many parts of rural Afghanistan, a Western male will never see or speak to an Afghan woman. It just won't happen. She will be wearing a burka and she certainly will not answer your questions and it would be inappropriate, frankly, to even ask.

"We were very fortunate in that sense, as women, we were able to have those conversations and see how they interact and hear their concerns, their lives, their stories. That brought a level of depth to the reporting that I think would have been impossible to do as a man."

But it was an unscripted event that happened to reveal the best depiction of what life is like under Taliban control, when the crew accidentally filmed a young girl being struck by a motorcycle driven by a Taliban fighter.

"When it happens in the moment, you're not even really sure what to make of it because we were so shocked and horrified. It was only afterwards when we watched the footage that it became clear that in some ways this seemingly random incident that didn't directly relate to our story actually told a much deeper story," she explained.

"What struck me as well was, in another situation, would everyone in the village get together and run out and start shouting at the Taliban fighter and saying 'hold on, what did you do? You're not going anywhere until this girl is okay'.

Why did that not happen? Was it because they were worried for their security? They were afraid to challenge a Taliban fighter? Or were they also, when they saw that the girl was conscious and seemingly not seriously injured, thinking 'okay, this isn't a big deal. We see people getting blown up every other day, so this just doesn't hit that threshold for us'?"

Ward's time was, of course, not without its challenges, particularly when it came to security and the heightened risk of airstrikes.

"There was a scene towards the end of our report where the military commander for the district stages this show of force. Around 40 or 50 men gathered waving white Taliban flags, carrying large guns and rocket-propelled grenades. That was a very frightening moment for us because those types of gatherings are a no-brainer target for drones and US and Afghan airstrikes.

"We asked them after a few minutes to disperse because we did feel it was unsafe. They said that they were not afraid, that this is their jihad. We take our security really seriously and we actually left the area because we felt there had been significant exposure and we were not comfortable with that."

Even with this potential threat, Ward said that no tip-off was made to the United States military to tell them they would be in the area.

"When you're entering into a kind of covenant of security, it has to be a two-way street. From the Taliban's side, they were guaranteeing our protection from their own men on the ground, from other groups on the ground, and from my side, I'm guaranteeing that we're not going to be doing something like tipping off the US military about where we're going and therefore tipping off them about where senior commanders for that area might be.

"If our presence ends up getting one of them killed or droned, then ethically we have failed in our duty as journalists. You have to protect your sources and you have a duty to protect the people who are protecting you.

"The reality on the ground from what we saw is that after 17 years of US forces being there, after more than a trillion dollars spent, flooding in billions on roads and infrastructure, life has not changed for many people in these rural areas. Their priority is peace and they hope that, with peace, there will come an improvement to their daily lives," she concluded.

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