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The bursting 'Ka-bubble': Taliban extremism is remaking a once-cosmopolitan Kabul

Nabih Bulos, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

The switch in signage is everywhere. From the patches on soldiers’ uniforms to the walls of the U.S. Embassy, from little flags sold by street peddlers on intersections to the pickup trucks commandeered from the defunct Afghan army that are always patrolling Kabul’s neighborhoods, the Taliban’s black-and-white banner is omnipresent.

Since the group entered on Aug. 15, a more somber tempo has taken hold of the capital, with the cacophony of the traffic jams and crowded markets making way at night for a subdued silence broken only by the call to prayer. Kabul’s wedding halls, gaudily decorated buildings where grooms could drop thousands of afghanis on parties lasting well into the early morning, have shifted celebrations to daytime hours.

But what about music, which was proscribed by the Taliban when it first ruled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001?

“The Taliban have no problem with it. But only DJs, not live,” said Hamid Qazikhil, a manager standing at the entrance of the Shahr-e-Naw wedding hall. Nearby, two Taliban fighters kept guard as children played with a soccer ball in the outer courtyard.

The ban on live music has been a cataclysm for the wedding performers such as those who taught at the Ghos al Din. The building, a dilapidated four-story sardined between other structures in Kabul’s Shor Bazaar neighborhood, was once home to dozens of music studios. Most have emptied out. Waheedullah Barna, a 45-year-old musician and harmonium restorer, was the exception.

“Everyone left. Some of the musicians are hiding like thieves. They don’t want to show themselves here,” he said, clutching at the pale-white keys of the harmonium he was working on. His lower lip quivered and he blinked, his eyes filling with tears.


Barna has formed a small band with some of the other remaining musicians; they meet and record music together inside the soundproof room in his studio.

“I need to stay. I won’t go,” he said. “I don’t care what happens.”

Not all forms of entertainment are off-limits, and even the Taliban indulges. Perhaps it’s hard to think of more mutually exclusive terms than “Taliban” and “amusement parks.” But one September evening there it was, like some cracked version of reality: Taliban gunmen, eating swirled towers of soft-serve ice cream, riding in bumper cars, giggling as they laid their M4s carbines to the side before strapping themselves in a chair on the merry-go-round at City Park.

“People see the Talibs with the guns, and of course they’re scared,” said an ice cream stand attendant, nodding toward a group of women shepherding children to the side while giving worried looks to the fighters.


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