As Taliban Settle In, Kabul’s Green Zone Comes Back to Life

Scattered across a neighborhood in central Kabul are the ruins of another empire to and from Afghanistan.

Torn sandbags and piles of barbed wire were thrown away. The metal shell of the tank trap lies unused by the side of the road. The red and white metal barricades, once lowered to stop vehicles at manned checkpoints 24/7, are permanently directed into the sky.

Not long ago, this neighborhood – known as the Green Zone – was a diplomatic enclave, buzzing with the sound of a multibillion-dollar war effort in Afghanistan. Armored vehicles rumbled through the streets, carrying Western diplomats and senior Afghan officials, while the thud of American helicopters echoed in the sky.

But these days, there’s a different kind of buzz in the neighborhood: the Taliban move in and make it their own. Like American-supplied Humvees and rifles and military fatigue, the Green Zone is becoming the latest vestige of the Western war effort that the Taliban have reused as they build up their armies and its own government.

Wealthy officials of the Taliban government and their families have settled in homes abandoned by Western officials since the fall of the old government in August 2021 and the flight of most of the residents. Green Zone people. Inside the former British embassy compound, young men in traditional dark gray turbans and brown shawls gather every afternoon for classes at a new madrasa, an Islamic school. Security forces along with the new government enter the old NATO headquarters.

The neighborhood, and its almost indestructible blast walls, became a testament to that for the enduring legacy of occupation, a reminder that even when foreign forces depart, the physical imprint they leave on a nation’s landscape — and national psyche — often exist forever.

“These walls will never be torn down,” said Akbar Rahimi, a shop owner inside the Green Zone, summing up the seeming permanence of the infrastructure around him.

One recent afternoon, Mr. Rahimi, 45, was sitting behind the corner shop’s wooden counter, absentmindedly watching a Bollywood movie on the wall-mounted TV. On the street outside, a forest green maintenance vehicle with a poster of the young Mullah Omar – the founder of the Taliban movement – plastered on the windshield sped past.

Rahimi was delighted when three young men, Taliban veterans turned security guards, entered the store and rummaged through a small, dirt-filled pile of lemons in front of the door. They gave the lemons to Mr. Rahimi, who weighed them on a rusted scale and tied them to a plastic bag with a skillful flick of his wrist.

“We buy lemons because some of our friends are fat – they need lemons to slim down and be better prepared for security,” one of the men joked. His friends burst out laughing. Mr. Rahimi, not amused, handed them lemons and received a tattered bill in return.

Mr. Rahimi recalls the old Green Zone and its former inhabitants with a sense of nostalgia. Outside the neighborhood, the city often ruined by suicide bombing And purposeful assassination in the American-led war. But within its roughly one-square-mile radius, there’s an intoxicating sense of legitimacy.

The Afghan office workers in government offices and foreign embassies used to pour into the street outside his shop at 8 a.m. each morning when they arrived at work and again at 4 a.m. afternoon when they get home. To him, that relatable daily rhythm seemed to provide a sense of control, a predictability that had eluded Afghanistan for decades.

There is “order and discipline,” he said wistfully.

For most of the two-decade war, the Green Zone occupied a unique place in the public consciousness of the people of Kabul. Once a tree-lined upper-middle class neighborhood with tree-lined streets, elegant villas and grand boulevards, the area has turned into a gray fortress with tall concrete fences. 16 feet.

For some Afghans unable to enter, the impenetrable void that stretches across central Kabul is a source of deep resentment – an alien presence disrupting daily life.

For others, it was a harbinger of the eventual defeat of the war, a place that defied the assurances of Western generals of victories and milestones achieved on the battlefield. , the steady construction of walls and barricades offers a more honest assessment of the West’s failures to rein in the Taliban’s reach.

When the Taliban took over Kabul, they initially looked at this concrete slab of the city with suspicion. For months, agents from the intelligence wing of the newly formed Taliban government went from building to building, digging through the remains of enemies whose inner workings had been hidden. in mystery for 20 years. Every house is said to have hidden weapons or wires. Every surveillance camera is a sign of espionage.

Faizullah Masoom, a 26-year-old Taliban veteran from Ghazni province, was amazed when he first saw the Green Zone. Then a sense of pride swept over him.

“I told myself that our enemies with such defenses – explosive walls and security cameras, barricades and fortified buildings – were finally defeated by us,” he said. “We are always in the mountains, forests and fields. We only have one gun and one motorcycle.”

Now, Mr. Masoom rarely leaves the Green Zone.

Soon after the Taliban took power, he took on a new position as a security guard at a checkpoint outside an office building. One recent afternoon, he sat on a concrete fence with three other guards at their post near the old Italian embassy.

The men passed a bag of chewing tobacco as pickup trucks and armored vehicles carrying Taliban government officials raced to the metal fence. They signaled to the drivers to roll down the black windows, look around the inside of the car, and guide them through the gate.

As I turned to leave, Faizullah asked where I was from. When he heard “America”, his eyes widened and his mouth fell open.

“Is she from America?” he asked a New York Times colleague who was traveling with me, almost in disbelief. For 20 years, Americans were sworn enemies. Now a person was standing two feet in front of him.

He and his friends looked at each other in bewilderment for a few seconds – a feeling of uncertainty hung in the air. Then they burst out laughing.

“We have no more conflicts, wars or enmities with anyone,” he says with a smile, as if to reassure me.

But the substantial presence of security guards here – like the explosion-proof walls that remain intact – reflects the insecurity that has threatened the country’s fragile peace since the US-led war. end. While the days of constant air raids and night raids are over, suicide attacks from terrorist groups continue to plague the city – even as the guardians responsible for stopping them have changed.

At the end of the road from their position, the words “Long live the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” – the official name the Taliban have given their government – is inscribed on an explosion wall in white paint, one of cosmetic changes the new government has made. is set when it redo the area in its own image.

The most striking example is painted on the wall that supported the former US Embassy. The wall has a mural depicting the American flag upright, with red-striped columns raising white stars against a blue background. Next to the flag, dozens of hands were knocking down red poles as if toppling a series of dominoes. “Our nation defeated America with God’s help” is scrawled next to it in blue paint.

The embassy itself remains empty and untouched – or barely untouched.

Attached to the towering gates of metal and barbed wire is a metal plaque depicting the symbol of the United States: a bald eagle, spreading its wings, an olive branch in one talon and 13 arrows on the other nail. More than two dozen bullet holes had peeled the paint off.

Safiullah Padshah contributed the translation from Kabul.


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