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Sunday, 2 December, 2001, 15:35 GMT
Kabul's new lease of life?
Street scene in Kabul
Residents of Kabul hoping for a return to normality
Marcus George

The Taleban regime has been kicked out of Kabul but the city's problems remain and, with large tracts of land destroyed by war, it is not hard to see why.

The once-prominent spot on the hippy trail to India stands in ruins after 23 years of battle and neglect.

If peace does not come to Afghanistan this time I will leave this country for the sake of my children, this is the last chance

Kabul resident
Whole neighbourhoods have been razed to the ground. Broken walls and screwed-up sheets of corrugated iron lying around industrial sites are the only indications of a once self-sufficient city.

On the southern edge of Kabul, the skeletal frame of Darulaman Palace stands looking over the city.

The building, which used to house the Ministry of Defence, is an awesome sight in its degenerative state.

It is a microcosm of the current ailing condition of Afghanistan just as, several decades ago, it symbolised the coming of a proud nation.

But contrary to public opinion, the responsibility for its destruction does not lie at the feet of the Taleban or successive Afghan communist governments.

Past destruction

Kabul was relatively unscathed by war until factional fighting between Mujahedin groups begun in 1992.

Kabul's Darulaman Palace
The Darulaman Palace: once a symbol of a proud nation

"This city was ruined by different groups of the Northern Alliance when they were in power last time," said a taxi driver who did not want to be named.

"There was no control or order and they did what they liked. This time I hope it will be different", he said.

With negotiations between factions continuing in Germany this sentiment is echoing across the peaceful city.

New lease of life

On the surface only a few things have changed since I was last in Kabul two years ago.

But a closer look and the city has taken on new life after the Taleban.

If you have the money, you can buy alcohol in the bazaar now, and after a long time under the Taleban, some people are very, very thirsty

Kabul resident
The Taleban flags and signs in Pashtu have been taken down and armed men with bulging black turbans are nowhere to be seen.

Most importantly for the residents the religious police and their pick-ups with red sirens have gone.

No longer will you be arrested by belligerent fighters for cutting your beard or not going to the mosque for prayers.

Cassette and video shops are sprouting up everywhere selling the latest in Indian and Pakistani music and film.

The atmosphere of calm, an alien feature during the rule of the Taleban, has finally arrived. For the last five years tension has hung in the air.

Renewed aid efforts

Aid agencies are queuing up to continue their activities in the city which had been severely hampered by the Taleban and the US air strikes.

Food distributions are going ahead around Kabul and supplies are coming in thick and fast.

I looked up two old friends as soon as I arrived in Kabul. One of them told me security was good in the city and, after the Taleban, they welcomed the new administration.

Video shopkeeper
Music and video shops are opening all over the city

"I feel safe now the war has gone from here," he said.

He had taken his family to Pakistan days after the terrorist attacks in America.

"We can walk openly in the streets without being hassled and I am free to do what I like.

But fear for the future was never far from his mind.

"If peace does not come to Afghanistan this time I will leave this country for the sake of my children," he said. "This is the last chance."

We reminisced about old times. I had jokingly told him British soldiers would return to Afghanistan for another war against their former enemies. Not many months later and here they were.

As for entertainment, there was little for him to do. His family were in Pakistan and on the way the Taleban looted his household goods.

He told me he read books and waited until the time he could visit his family.

"But, if you have the money," he said laughingly, "you can buy alcohol in the bazaar now, and after a long time under the Taleban, some people are very, very thirsty."

See also:

28 Nov 01 | South Asia
Kabul father pleads for peace
24 Nov 01 | South Asia
Kabul women keep the veil
22 Nov 01 | South Asia
Fear and freedom in Kabul
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