Afghans fearful of Taliban return as foreign forces prepare to exit
When international forces leave Afghanistan, it will be bad for the economy, residents tell JOHN D MCHUGHin Kabul
KABUL SITS on the old Silk Road and has been a trading city for thousands of years. Walking through the ancient bazaar in Kabul’s old town, it feels like stepping back in time, to the days of camel trains and spice traders.
The narrow alleys are partially covered and the bright Afghan sun spills through in places, creating pillars of light that seem to hold the roof up.
In some sections the covering is coloured cloth, bathing the passageways in eerie reds and greens. Recycled bottles of whiskey, their labels declaring their original use and illegal provenance, sit filled with nut oil alongside bags, baskets and hessian sacks of spices.
Turning into the alley known as the bird market, the smell that assails the nostrils is a little more pungent. For hundreds of years men have sold fighting and singing birds here. Handmade wooden cages line the street, and in places are so tightly packed overhead that the alley almost becomes a tunnel. For the bird sellers, memories of the Taliban are never far away. “I have been a shopkeeper here for over 20 years,” Shirin Agha tells me. “Things are much better now than in the Taliban times. They used to come and open our cages, letting all our birds go free.”
The bird sellers joined together and complained, saying their businesses and livelihoods would be ruined if this behaviour continued. “They stopped after that,” Agha says, “but warned us not to play with the birds.”
“When I hear the birds singing, it reminds me of freedom,” says Bashir Socyal, “and that the Taliban are gone.”
Socyal grew up in Kabul during the Soviet occupation, and survived the civil war that destroyed the capital. He was studying medicine at Kabul University when the Taliban came to power, but they quickly closed the universities, and his life became about survival all over again.
The first time he was imprisoned by the Taliban it was for cutting his beard short. The second time was for possessing a copy of Terminator 2. Stopped at a checkpoint by members of the Taliban’s “vice and virtue” department, he says his nervousness betrayed him. In Pul-e-Charkhi jail the prisoners were fed on bread and water. Even after all of this, Socyal says the worst thing the Taliban did was to destroy the economy of Afghanistan.
“There was almost no economy and for me to survive I used to do difficult jobs – like during the Taliban I taught English,” he says. He even taught some of the Taliban, he says. “I worked hard for payment, for survival. I did different things during the Taliban, as the economy was very bad. I used to sell old rugs, old carpets. I would buy an old carpet and would put it on the street there and would sell it for a little profit.”
All of these things, he says, he did to keep his family alive.
LOOKING TOthe future, Socyal sees more economic troubles. “There are talks about international troops leaving Afghanistan,” he says. “They haven’t left yet but there are talks that they will leave after 2014. The economy has already gone down. The price of houses has gone down. A friend of mine who is a car seller says he can hardly sell a car, because there is no economy, so once the international community leaves Afghanistan the economy will go down.”