Thousands of young Taliban men from all over the country, many of whom have never been to a big city before, were deployed in Kabul after the Afghan republic collapsed Aug. 15. When not on duty, they sightsee, picnic and visit amusement parks, in a tangle of guns and turbans. Taliban fighters from elsewhere in Afghanistan have also come to gawk at Kabul on tourist trips.
Top urban attractions for relaxing Taliban are Qargha lake, with its swan-shaped pedal boats, the Kabul zoo, and the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood, where visitors stroll on a grassy hill overlooking the city.
“I used to infiltrate in, to gather intelligence or to shoot people we were targeting,” said Shafiullah Masood, a 24-year-old from the province of Wardak, at the City Park amusement center with a gang of Taliban friends, waiting to go on the swinging pirate boat ride. “I’m happy that people are enjoying a peaceful life here now.”
The Taliban government’s Defense Minister Mawlawi Mohammad Yaqoob, a son of the Islamist group’s one-eyed founder Mullah Omar, wasn’t amused. In a recent speech, he castigated the fighters for going sightseeing, hanging out in big groups, making aimless trips to markets and to the Kabul airport, or exploring government buildings.