(The notional): Afghan businessman Mohammad Zahir never thought he would leave his home of 20 years in Mazar-i-Sharif, but when the Taliban appeared at the gates of the main city in Balkh province in June, he decided it was time to go. Now, he and his family are among thousands of Afghans who have fled to Kabul as the militants wage fierce battles across the country, posing the most serious threat of their two-decade insurgency. The rise in violence, triggered by the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country, has resulted in the fall of many districts, particularly in the northern provinces that were once considered out of the Taliban’s reach. The relative security in northern Afghanistan had allowed Mr Zahir, 46, to build up a thriving business selling cooking oil imported from Uzbekistan, which borders Balkh. “No one expected that the Taliban would reach so close to a city like Mazar. It was always a safe and prosperous haven. But the day the Taliban reached the gates of Mazar, I decided to leave,” he told The National. “My children were horrified when they saw the photos of the Taliban roaming around the checkpoint outside Mazar. They couldn’t sleep and would keep asking me what would happen if they took over the city. My 3-year-old asked me, ‘Will they kill us?’ and my 11-year-old daughter asked if she would be forced to wear chadari [traditional Afghan burqa]. “This is a lot for the children to deal with and I couldn’t bear to watch them live in fear, so we left.” Mr Zahir moved to Kabul in June because the Afghan capital is considered a government stronghold, despite occasional militant attacks. “I am glad I did because many relatives and fellow businessmen are now stuck and unable to leave Mazar because of security as well as affordability,” he said. Property agents in Kabul say demand for homes from the influx of people fleeing the Taliban has pushed rents up by as much as 40 per cent. “Recently I have been getting a lot of tenants from big cities like Mazar and Herat who want to move to Kabul,” estate agent Sayed Hussain told The National. Mr Hussain, 40, inherited his business from his father during the Taliban regime and has seen it all, from drastic, high rents after the US-led invasion that toppled the militants from power to a slump after reduced aid led many international NGO workers to leave. “I remember it like yesterday, how the property costs and rent jumped when the Americans came to Afghanistan. I had rented a big house to a Taliban member for 15,000 Pakistan rupees per month, which was around $250 then,” he said. “But when the Taliban fell, he left the house, and three months later I rented the same house to Americans for $3,000 per month. Then a few years later, a British organisation took that same house for $8,500 per month.”