KABUL’S iconic Chicken Street shopping district is home to dozens of stores selling antiques, handicrafts, locally-produced furniture, art and jewellery. Several stores were damaged after the Taliban detonated an explosives-laden ambulance only metres from the famed shopping district.
KABUL’S iconic Chicken Street shopping district is home to dozens of stores selling antiques, handicrafts, locally-produced furniture, art and jewellery. Several stores were damaged after the Taliban detonated an explosives-laden ambulance only metres from the famed shopping district.

WHEN the rain and snow finally came to Kabul on Monday, the city’s residents found little relief in a site that should have allayed their fears of a dry winter.

Only days prior, President Ashraf Ghani fearing potential droughts, had called on the people to pray for rain. But when the rain and snow did fall, it was on a dark day in Kabul, as Afghans were still reeling from a series of attacks that led to the deaths of more than 130 people over a 10-day span.

“If only God had answered prayers for peace and order as well,” said one video journalist as he was heading towards the Marshal Fahim Military Academy, where ‘Islamic State’-allied fighters had staged the latest attack on the city.

Then, after the rain and snow came a fog so thick and heavy that people said they could barely see a few metres in front of them. The symbolism of the weather wasn’t lost on anyone.

“If we’re lost in a haze, why shouldn’t the outside world be,” said a young man trying to traverse through the murky Wednesday evening. The haze the young man, groceries in hand, was referring to is the result of the many emotions that have engulfed the people over the last week — sadness, fear and anger.

Zalmai, a middle-aged store owner in Kabul’s famed Chicken Street shopping district, understands those emotions all too well. As he recounts the events of the afternoon of Jan 27, when the Taliban drove an explosives-laden white ambulance past a checkpoint near Separate Square, his voice goes through waves of hurried excitement, deep shock and a sense of resigned sadness.

His immediate thoughts were with his cousin, who had another store just a little further down the street. When he arrived at his cousin’s store, Zalmai saw his cousin’s nine-year-old grandson bleeding from a gash in his neck.

“I couldn’t tell if it was glass or shrapnel, but the cut was so deep” said Zalmai, who went to rush the little boy to the nearby Jamhoriyat Hospital. The next shock came when Zalmai exited his cousin’s shop and then saw carnage in front of him.

“The entire street was lined with bodies, some were missing arms and legs, others were just torsos,” Zalmai said describing the immediate aftermath of the bombing. He said he saw at least 50 bodies lying on the street in the 30 minutes before the police arrived on the scene.

Haji Abdul Baser, who owns a store next to that of Zalmai, said the bombing took a devastating toll on the community of shop owners in one of Kabul’s most famed commercial districts. Aside from the physical damage — municipality workers were still picking up the shards of shattered glass nearly five days later — Baser said they lost their friends in the bombing.

“The man who worked at this store, he was still so young, he died,” Baser said as he pointed to a jewellery shop next door to his own store. Baser then indicated other stores, all with heavily damaged facades, where shop owners and workers were killed or injured.

Both men were at a loss for what the solution to the increasing violence would be. One thing they knew for sure, though, was that the cries of a small protest a few hundred metres away wasn’t it.

“Look at those people who gathered in the park, they call for the resignation of the government,” said Zalmai. “But what will that do? Do they have someone to fill the void? It’s just foolish, we need real answers.”

Baser uses the attack near their stores as an example of the difficulties facing the country: “They made it into the heart of the city,” he commented. “If there are Taliban in the middle of Kabul you think they aren’t in the districts of Ghazni or the villages of Helmand?”

What is most upsetting to both men is that the recent wave of attacks in Kabul (the site of three bombings), Jalalabad, Kandahar and Helmand is the focus on civilian casualties. This is a fact that Javid Faisal, deputy spokesman to the office of the chief executive, wants all Afghans to remember about the recent attacks claimed by the Taliban and the IS.

“We have to stop saying things like the bombing was near the ministry of interior or this embassy or that, this bombing was near a hospital, it was near a shopping district, it was near a high school,” Faisal said in reference to the fact that a building formerly used by the ministry of interior was located near the site of the Jan 27 bombing.“People need to know that the targets were civilians,” he added.

Faisal, who had to transport the body of a friend to Kandahar province after the Jan 20 Taliban-claimed attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, said that the recent onslaught has impacted everyone, even those who once may have seemed to sympathise with or excuse groups like the Taliban.

“It’s become so clear to everyone now that their targets are civilians, they want to make life unbearable for the average Afghan and now even those that used to defend the Taliban curse them.”

Published in Dawn, February 2nd, 2018

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