Cleaner and safer, but also darker, the streets of Kabul have changed since the Taliban resettled in the capital of Afghanistan, explain the municipality and residents.
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Teeming, polluted and ultra-secure, Kabul “was initially designed for 500,000 inhabitants but it has nearly 7 million,” declares Nematullah Barakzai, municipal advisor for cultural affairs.
Since their lightning reconquest of Kabul in August 2021, the Taliban have prioritized cleanliness and security.
They have made “a visible effort on cleaning the streets, collecting household waste, evacuating” wastewater, tells AFP Amin Karim, urban architect and former advisor to ex-president Ashraf Ghani.
But safety is their “greatest accomplishment.” “Those who were at the origin of insecurity are now responsible for security!”, he quips.
At a market in the capital, Khalilullah, a 21-year-old apple seller, says he can now “go to work and come home even late at night”.
Kabul is crisscrossed by 62,0000 video surveillance cameras. “To prevent crime,” according to the Interior Ministry. To monitor them, many Kaboulis believe.
Ramisha, a 26-year-old painter met in western Kabul, says she is relieved to no longer fear “thefts, kidnappings or attacks”.
To thwart attacks by Islamic State jihadists, the Taliban have left checkpoints in place that were once supposed to prevent their own attacks.
Two years later, many districts of Kabul remain “bunkerized”. Access is filtered by horses of frieze, concrete chicanes, barriers, and hooded and armed men.
A million flowers
The leaders of the Islamic Emirate also returned to the Kaboulis kilometers of streets blocked by the powerful of the old regime: warlords, ministers or deputies.
“More than a hundred streets which were closed to the public have been reopened” to traffic, welcomes Mr. Barakzai.
Standing in the middle of a crossroads in the “green zone”, the municipal official shows with broad gestures the avenue where the residence of the daughter of an ex-president was destroyed.
In two years, more than 100 kilometers of roads or streets have been built in Kabul.
The capital’s coffers have been filled. The Taliban municipality recovered the property taxes without firing a shot, and retroactively. A novelty in Kabul, which was also plagued by corruption.
The Taliban administration is also working to green the dusty metropolis.
In the redeveloped park of the Shar-e Naw district, surprisingly lush lawns defy the surrounding aridity.
A million flowers will grow under greenhouses which will be planted in the spring in the capital.
The parks being forbidden to women, only men lounge under the majestic pines, a few stone’s throw from a street where excavators demolish the beauty salons which were officially closed in July.
The “cleansing” of Kabul also emptied its streets of thousands of drug addicts.
Monster traffic jams
But traffic jams and pollution are proving more complicated challenges.
At the northern exit of Kabul, a turbaned old man passes on horseback near the powerful excavators who are building a 4 km expressway, along brick slums clinging to a bare mountainside.
Around a hundred houses were razed for the 370 million Afghanis (4.9 million euros) project for the first of two six-lane axes intended to make entry and exit from Kabul more fluid.
In two years, 24 roundabouts have been built to discipline traffic. But cars negotiate them from the left.
“We still have traffic problems, but we will be able to resolve them,” assures Mr. Barakzai, “we have a strategic vision over 10 years.”
In front of the old French Esteqlal high school where a king and warlords studied, there are huge traffic jams. And the pollution that goes with it.
Old junk, adulterated gasoline, domestic heating with coal and even plastic, Kabul is suffocating.
A masculine city
The atmosphere in the capital has changed greatly.
Kabul lost its colors as women were ordered to wear the abaya, this long outfit reaching down to the feet, generally black.
In the evening, the streets are dark and deserted, as if the capital was living under curfew.
“Before, on Thursday afternoons and Fridays until late at night, the center was teeming with people. The restaurants were full, we could hear music everywhere,” remembers Amin Karim.
For Humaira, a 29-year-old employee, before her ban “music was a pleasant leisure activity”. But “people still listen to it in the car. They turn it off at checkpoints.”
If she also finds that “women’s clothes have changed a lot”, she nevertheless adds that she feels “more secure” because she is no longer “harassed in the street”.
Excluded from secondary and university education as well as from part of the job market, the Kaboulies are rarer on the streets. “The capital has become an almost exclusively male city (…) a prison for women,” believes Amin Karim.
“We can no longer go to the Babur gardens, the Kabul zoo and many other parks,” laments Ramisha, the painter.
However, “the sadness on the face of a woman or a man comes from economic difficulties,” she says: unemployment has exploded and the capital has become impoverished.
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