During the Taliban’s reign from 1996 to 2001, dozens of seemingly harmless activities and pastimes were announced in Afghanistan, including kite flying, TV soap operas, pigeon racing, haircuts, and even music.
In the years since, these have made a comeback, but there is growing concern that if armed groups regain power, they will be banned again.
Since the U.S. military began its final withdrawal in May, Taliban fighters have made huge gains in the military and territories. The leaders of the organization stated that they hope Afghanistan will once again become an Islamic country ruled by religious elders.
Agence France-Presse studied some activities prohibited by the Taliban and the fears of those who are now involved in them.
Sayed Mohammad lives as a professional musician playing Japanese string instruments. This was the first time he came into contact with traditional stringed instruments in Central Asia when he was a child.
He still remembers the night 20 years ago when the Taliban broke into the house where he and his friends played music and sang.
According to the strict interpretation of Islam by the Taliban, only human voices can produce music-and only to praise God.
“I’m still young, so I’ve been beaten fewer times than my friends,” said Mohamed, 40, a resident of the former Taliban fortress in Kandahar.
“I still can’t stand for three days,” he added.
He said he was lucky and described how the Taliban cut off the finger of one of his friends on another occasion because he was playing a Japanese game.
When the organization was deposed, Muhammad celebrated by attending a concert.
“When the music played, I felt my whole body tremble, pure joy,” he said. “I am glad that our country is free, and people are now free to start a new life.”
Since then, many Afghans like Muhammad have become professional musicians and singers.
“If we live in fear, life is no fun,” the father of eight children told AFP.
Even if the Taliban returned to power, he was determined to pursue his passion. “It’s like an addiction. Even if they cut our fingers, we still play music.”
In the bustling Kabul market shop, surrounded by hundreds of colorful kites of various sizes, Zelgai said he is determined not to give up the business his family has run for generations — and he has followed the wind before.
The Taliban banned kite flying on the grounds that it would distract young people’s prayers and other religious activities, but Zelge and his family continued to operate.
“Of course, we did it in secret,” the 59-year-old told AFP in his shop in the capital Shor Bazaar.
His colorful store sells hundreds of fragile ready-made kites, and he also accepts well-designed custom design orders.
Since the fall of the Taliban, business has soared over the years.
“This is freedom…we can publicly display and sell our kites without fear,” Zelgai said.
After the 2003 best-selling novel “The Kite Chaser” by the Afghan writer Khaled Hosseini was made into a movie, this beloved national pastime gained a reputation abroad.
Today, when the wind is right, thousands of kites can be seen flying in the blue sky of Afghanistan.
Some people are fighting, pilots try to use their flying skills to outwit each other, and some use glass-inlaid twine to cut the opponent’s rope.
“If it is banned, people will suffer. Thousands of families make a living on it,” Zerguet said.
The day Maniza Talash started breakdancing, she knew she would be the target of the Taliban.
Talash is the only female member of a group of mainly Hazara boys practicing breakdancing in Kabul, usually in secret.
The 18-year-old girl has the support of her mother. After her husband disappeared a few years ago, she has several jobs to support the family.
But for Talash, who dreams of representing Afghanistan in the Olympics, the risks of continuing are many.
Not only is she a girl who participated in prohibited activities, but she is also a member of the Hazara community and is regarded as heresy by some Muslims.
“If the Taliban do not change and they lock women in their homes and trample on their rights, then life will be meaningless to me and millions of other Afghan women,” Talash said.
Despite the risks—the theater company was forced to change practice venues after receiving death threats—she was determined to pursue her passion.
There are female pioneers in many fields in Afghanistan, and Talash now sees himself as one of them.
“We didn’t have policewomen before; now you can see them everywhere,” she said, wearing a T-shirt, hat and black leggings—the Taliban would hate this attire.
“I risk becoming a target. I have fear in my heart, but I will not give up.”
In a small shop in the Afghan capital Kabul, the beautician Farida transformed a shy young Afghan woman into a radiant bride-to-be.
Glue the extra-large false eyelashes slenderly, and then apply a rich carmine lipstick. Next is the eyeshadow, then lightly apply beige and ocher blush.
Despite its high popularity, Farida’s beauty salon is one of hundreds of beauty salons across the country facing an uncertain future.
The Taliban strictly restricted the movements and activities of women and girls during their rule, and prohibited beauty salons from operating in public places.
“If they come back, we will never have the freedom we have now,” said Farida, 27, who requested no further identification.
“They don’t want women to work.”
Farida’s shops are busiest on Thursday and Friday-this is the weekend in Afghanistan, where hundreds of people gather for a grand wedding.
Out of the sight of a man, a woman will be spoiled for hours.
However, beauty comes at a price. Farida’s salon is one of the most popular salons in Kabul, and the cost of a complete treatment package is as high as $300.
“I think the Taliban will force us to leave when they come,” Farida said, adding that if there is a chance, she would love to move to Canada.
On the banks of the river that flows through the eastern city of Jalalabad, Mohammad Saleem and his friends gather every night to smoke hookah, an ancient pastime that is being revived around the world.
“It’s normal to smoke hookah in Afghanistan at the moment,” Salim said, spouting fruit-flavored tobacco steam from the bubbling hookah.
But the Taliban said it was an anaesthetic and was forbidden by the Qur’an.
Since the fall of the Taliban, hookah cafes have appeared across the country to provide hot saffron tea to customers occupied by pipes.
Cafe owner Bakhtyar Ahmad believes that this habit is a good way to keep young people away from the streets or addicted to drugs and other worse vices.
“There is peace here. We serve hookahs and we play music in the cafe,” Ahmed said. “If the Taliban come back with their old ideas, they will stop us.”
The hookah smoker agreed.
“It’s impossible to have a picnic by the river or smoke a hookah like this,” Salim said.
Business is booming at the Mohammad Ghaderi salon in the western city of Herat, young people line up for a shave or fancy haircut to match their favorite Bollywood or Hollywood actors.
“Afghanistan has entered a new world,” said Ghaderi, who has been a men’s hair stylist for nearly 10 years.
“There are more barbers, more young people like fashion… The government is not opposed to it like the Taliban.”
Although men in rural areas tend to stick to the Islamic style—shaven their upper lip and have a beard longer than a man’s fist—the urban bald head is the latest fashion parade.
But Ghaderi and his clients worry that if the Taliban returns, their individualism will end.
“We are worried that if the Taliban enter cities and bazaars, they may be the same as they were 20 years ago,” he said.
“Women will wear burqas again, and young men will not be able to do what they want freely,” added Sanaullah Amin, a regular guest.