KABUL, Afghanistan — There’s a glimmer of old Kabul hidden in the new — if you know where to look.
It’s in the packed pool halls where young men in jeans yell “nice shot” in English. He lives in the arcades where teenagers play “Call of Duty.” He’s in coffee shops where women sip cappuccinos, their abayas hiding blue jeans, to a Taylor Swift tune playing.
Since the Taliban ousted the Western-backed government nearly two years ago, they have obliterated the most obvious vestiges of the US nation-building project in Afghanistan. The classrooms of high schools and universities have been left empty of women. Religious scholars and strict interpretations of shariah law replaced judges and state penal codes. Parliament was dissolved.
But more difficult to eradicate has been the cultural legacy left over from 20 years of US occupation, the more subtle ways in which Western and Afghan cultures collided in major cities and shaped urban life along with the generation of young people who came of age in it.
“All the clothing and shoe brands are here, sports academies, we have all the new technology — we connect with the world,” said Ahmad Khalid, 37, at a steakhouse in Kabul.
The enduring Western influence is most striking in the Capital. Before the US-led war began in 2001, Kabul was in shambles after years of civil war and later fighting between resistance forces and the first Taliban government. But after the US invasion, it became a center of international attention.
Since 2001, the City’s population has nearly doubled to about 5 million—more or less half of the nation’s total urban population.
There are pizzerias, hamburger restaurants and gyms in every neighborhood. Tattoos – prohibited in Islam – adorn the arms of young people.
For members of the young, urban generation, restaurants and bookstores have become an escape from a country being rebuilt by a government that often feels more alien to them than the Western-backed administration.
At a popular cafe in Kabul on a recent afternoon, men and women were mixing together, ignoring gender segregation requirements.
Taiba and her friend, Farhat, both 19, said the café was one of the few remaining public spaces where they were allowed entry and where their very existence did not feel threatened.
“I love the smell, the books and the music they play,” said Taiba. “Although,” she added with a wry smile, “I don’t like pop music anymore since I became a good Muslim in the last two years.” The girls looked at each other and laughed. “Just kidding,” she said.
Every afternoon, dozens of kids flock to a gaming center in Kabul. It was one of the few places they had left, they said. Many cafes have closed, the government banned their favorite hookah bars and police officers recently banned children under the age of 10 from the play area — raising concerns that they could end up banning play centers altogether.
By: CHRISTINA GOLDBAUM
BBC-NEWS-SRC: http://www.nytsyn.com/subscribed/stories/6791608, IMPORTING DATE: 2023-07-05 20:30:09
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