KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – Life in Kabul has changed in the six weeks since the Taliban invaded the Afghan capital – but not all at once.
Some things remain the same: the traffic has reverted to a loud, congested rumble. Young men still play cricket and watch traditional wrestling matches in the city’s Chaman-e-Hozari Park. Under their previous regime, the Taliban banned many sports, but so far they haven’t this time around.
Many women appeared not to take to the streets in the days following the August 15 takeover, but in the weeks since, more and more women reappear in public, some wearing more coats and scarves. long, others wearing the full-coverage burqa, which has traditionally been worn by many in Afghanistan, apart from the Taliban.
One day, a woman walked past a row of beauty salons, where some advertisements on the windows had been defaced or covered up to erase images of women, but some advertisements were not changed.
It is emblematic of the in-between where Kabul currently resides. Will the die-hard Taliban impose the severe restrictions they imposed when they ruled in the 1990s, or will there be room for flexibility? Photos of all living things, even animals, were prohibited under their previous rule. So far this has not happened, but it is still unclear how far the Taliban themselves have decided to go.
Women already feel restrictions. Kabul city government workers were mostly ordered to stay at home, and high school girls were not allowed to return to class.
A more subtle visual change: fewer men wear western clothes. Government employees were the ones who most often wore Western-style clothing, and they have now switched to the traditional shalwar-kameez combination of a long shirt and loose pants.
The most glaring change is the presence of the Taliban themselves. Taliban fighters who direct traffic or hold the many checkpoints have largely donned blue camouflage uniforms, making them appear more official. But many other fighters wear the shalwar kameez. Most have never been to Kabul in their lives.
One evening, fighters sat down to guard a building housing the Taliban. Behind them, on the blast walls, an old mural depicted a woman behind barbed wire, originally painted to comment on the harshness of the war. Another day, a group of Taliban, cradling their automatic weapons, spent a day on a boat on a lake near Kabul, talking about the strange life for them in that city.
Other signs point to growing economic desperation. The economy was already deteriorating before the arrival of the Taliban, with more than 55% living below the poverty line. Now, after the takeover, it is quickly collapsing, with the UN warning 97% could be below the poverty line by the end of the year.
Makeshift markets have sprung up everywhere, filled with furniture and household items as people sell what they can. At one o’clock, the women chose rugs to sell. Another on the fringes of Chaman-e-Hozari Park was poorer, with old men hawking piles of old clothes. Neighborhoods with upscale restaurants and shops are more empty. Everyone is talking about leaving the country.
In a camp for internally displaced people, food donations are distributed. Sooty men working in a brick factory say they are still producing, but fewer people are buying. As the men line up for Friday prayers, a little girl sits in front of them, hoping to earn money by shining shoes.
As night fell, a woman crossed the street holding the hands of a little girl and a boy, the lights of Kabul pointing at the hills behind them.