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Asia

'Kabul is less conservative than Pakistani cities'

Kabul is always in the news. Yet, we do not seem to know much about it. DW's Thomas Baerthlein recently visited the Afghan capital and discovered a different city from what he had expected.

DW's Thomas Bärthlein

DW's editor Thomas Baerthlein is currently based in Islamabad, Pakistan

DW's Thomas Baerthlein lists ten of his biggest surprises during his visit to Kabul:

  • Kabul is not a gloomy, depressing place as most people in the world think. Afghans are fun-loving and they love to party. There are dozens of glitzy wedding halls in the capital, which are apparently doing good business. Kabul's weddings are much bigger than most Indian and Pakistani weddings. Middle and upper-class Afghan families spend thousands of dollars on weddings.
  • Kabul can easily be called the capital of youth. You see young men and women in government offices and other institutions. Bright and eloquent 30-year-olds occupy leading positions in Kabul. They are not interested in the Taliban and do not want to see them return to power. The youngsters are also extremely energetic. They work and study at the same time. Some of them run non-government organizations.
  • Kabul doesn't even look like a very conservative place. You hear much less prayer calls from mosques than in Pakistan - or Turkey, for that matter. There are many women on the streets, most of whom cover their heads loosely with a scarf, still showing some hair. Burqas are the exception. You see more women wearing veils in the Pakistani city of Peshawar than in Kabul.
  • Although Western soldiers and diplomats fear attacks, most areas in Kabul are quite safe for even Western civilians, who walk around freely and do their shopping. Kabul is safer than other Afghan cities.
  • There are still some old communists in the city who praise former Afghan President Mohammad Najibullah and say that he lived in a simple apartment because he was not corrupt like the President Hamid Karzai today. I visited an underground bar run by an old communist which is frequented by Afghans - including members of special anti-terrorist forces trained by the Americans.
  • Most Afghans blame Pakistan for interfering in their country's affairs. If you turn on the TV, people are always discussing their neighbor. Yet the residents of Kabul regularly visit Peshawar and other Pakistani cities and Pakistani Pashtuns can travel to Afghanistan and work in Kabul without documents, not caring much about the “Durand Line” - the international border which divides the Pashtun areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
  • Most people in Kabul speak both Afghan languages - Dari and Pashto. Ethnic groups don't segregate themselves; inter-ethnic friendships and marriages are common. Despite the bloodshed, all the Afghans I met were fiercely nationalistic. They are against breaking up the country along ethnic lines.
  • Kabul is quite a green city with many parks. It is also dusty. The streets are in a bad shape. The Afghan foreign ministry employs dozens of gardeners and even manages a greenhouse, which is responsible for sending flower pots to every office and meeting room.
  • Afghans really like football. We saw some really good football in the first edition of the Afghan Premier League. The event is promoted by the Afghan telecom giant Roshan and the leading TV channel Tolo TV.
  • There are lots of German buses on the streets of Kabul, which were sold secondhand by German-Afghans.

Afghanistan faces many challenges but let's not forget that Afghans are resilient. The bullet holes from the civil war have disappeared from the walls of Kabul and new construction is underway everywhere.

On a hill in the western outskirts, the ruins of the Darul Aman palace, built in the 1920s by the former Afghan King Amanullah, serves as a reminder of the old times.

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