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Selling the Taliban
On one of the walls of what used to be the US Embassy in Kabul is now the First Kalima (Declaration of Faith for Muslims) in black with a white background. The words mean “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammed (pbuh) is his Messenger”, the pbuh after the Prophet’s name means Peace Be Upon Him. The words, the meaning and their representation are held dear by Muslims. You’ll see the same on a patch on some Taliban uniforms and on headbands some wear, not all do. Journalists take photos of it, pedestrians stare, Talibs smile at their victory. And some enterprising people have had flags, large and small printed, along with headbands and patches sewn. To sell the Taliban.
Who’s buying these you may wonder. Well, journalists are certainly buying them. Does it support the Taliban? If taxes are gathered they may well support the Taliban, the country as a whole and even this young boy here. I didn’t see any Taliban buy them. The flags I can understand. You’ll see small ones on the dashboard of taxis, the large ones flying from the backs of 4x4s the Taliban are patrolling in. There is and isn’t support for the Taliban, so some are bought because people are genuinely happy they’re in power and others to make it easier to say get through checkpoints.
What about the patches? They cost 30 Afghanis each if they are stitched and 10 Afghanis if printed. 100 Afghanis is around 1 dollar. These are small and easy souvenirs, I guess. I saw journalists buy these. Maybe children would buy them too and pretend they’re in the Taliban who are today like any military in any country, patrolling the streets and waving at people. Either way. This child here is being used as an advertisement. The only times I have seen the headband worn has been on a few Taliban soldiers, not many. Never seen them worn by children like this one here. But it’s a way to make a living. Aside from this prime spot, you can see flags sold in the markets and in between cars by young children.
The children who walk between the cars on the busy roads of Kabul usually sell the promise to ward off the evil eye by waving a smoking tin around your vehicle, pens, or they simply beg. Today they’re also selling the Taliban, their logos, their flags, pin badges and pictures of them printed from the internet and laminated makes for good business. A picture of Mullah Baradar goes for a dollar. That may not seem a lot, there’s the time to find a picture, for that there’s Google, then colour printing (very cheap, I had to have my passport copied), then laminating, again cheap. Then the distribution. And hit rate, how many people will buy a picture, a badge? Making a dollar is decent though. Journalists again will buy things like this and these boys work the area around the hotels where they stay. Two dollars, three? Ten? If you’re a photographer who took a picture of senior Taliban members, you may well be seeing your work for sale here. Good luck arguing over copyright.
A book I would recommend by Hans Rosling called Factfulness made me think more about people in other countries to where I lived, and that they were people and lived in a place, the decisions they made may seem peculiar on first look but after thinking about it, or my preferred method, simply asking I’d understand them. Many people in the west are horrified by the Taliban, for me it’s about working here. Can I get on with them? Understand them? Yes. Will a continued engagement with them make us both understand each other? I hope so. I’m no angel. I like being here and know I can leave. But I do like being here.
Past the Taliban, these people here, why are they selling the Taliban? Well, they’re just living. And under that term comes everything from being scared, desperate, understanding, making bargains, getting along, getting on, making money, needing to buy food, needing to be out of their homes, all of that and more. Some are very happy the Taliban have taken over. Some of them have never seen a change in their lives even with the billions of dollars of investment over the last two decades. Hard truths. Just living.
From the last post
It reminds me of the mosques when I grew up. As we read the Quran and mispronounced the Arabic we’d be hit with sticks. We’d have to bend over, thread our arms between our legs and hold our ear lobes and be whacked on the bottom. That was England in the 80s. Here in Afghanistan today the Taliban have cut hose pipes with which they smack the tops of cars to keep them moving, I’ve seen one Taliban soldier whip a market trader with one, he hit him a few times then moved on. But usually it’s the roof of your car which will get hit.
Read Filming with the Taliban cops here
Thank you for the feedback
Thank you to friends old and new for writing and pointing out typos and errors, it helps me get better. I write these posts sometimes when I have lots of time, other times I’m rushing around. The nature of the work. I do treat it as work too, I try to take care over what is published. And it makes me happy not on a superficial level but deeper to know I am transmitting what I see and that you’re getting at least another piece of the jigsaw. Weigh it up. Roll it around. Think for yourself. I want to understand people and without any hyperbole, I want to be better. Currently that means learning about photography, and recording audio. I’ve recently finished a friend’s audiobook. I love film, but also being able to look at a picture, or read some words or hear the sounds of a place and its people, it’s all part of it for me. I have been recording as I go along so do hope one day, maybe in a couple of months I can start offering you a podcast.
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And, for now, goodbye, thank you and see you soon. Adnan