Asia

Taliban fighters hit the fairground as Afghans fear for freedoms

QARGHAH, AFGHANISTAN (AFP) – “This is Afghanistan!” a Taliban fighter shouts on a pirate ship ride at a fairground in western Kabul, as his armed comrades cackle and whoop onboard the rickety attraction.

With AK-47 and M4 assault rifles strapped to their chests, the soldiers cling to colourful steel benches as they are flung back and forth, their scarves and headdresses flapping in the wind. It was decided a rocket launcher one of them was earlier cradling was better left on solid ground.

The group – ranging in age from 18 to 52 – is relaxing at a small amusement park next to Qarghah Reservoir on the outskirts of the Afghan capital, where families and children normally ride the Ferris Wheel and carousel.

The scene is an incongruous one: the Taliban fighters were in a playful mood in the capital they seized less than six weeks ago.

Since then, Afghans have feared a return to the group’s brutally oppressive rule of the 1990s, when they banned music, photography, television – and even children’s games such as kite-flying.

The Taliban promised a more moderate rule this time, but have already curtailed Afghans’ freedoms, including excluding girls from school and sports.

Fighters from around the country flocked to Kabul after the Islamist hardliners swept to power in mid-August and many had never been to a funfair.

Once the three-minute ride is over the battle-hardened fighters clap, grin and giggle amongst themselves – and the RPG launcher is reunited with its owner.

On the shores of the picturesque reservoir, other Taliban members hop into swan-shaped pedalos as the sun begins to set behind the hills in the distance.

Still brandishing their weapons, they set off in pairs across the water in the pink, blue, green, yellow and blue boats, laughing as the vessels bump together.

Dressed in camouflaged military uniforms and traditional Afghan clothes, they pose with their assault rifles as friends take pictures on the pebbly shore.

Nearby, a few of the more senior Taliban members take the opportunity to pray, setting down their shawls between two boats on a jetty.

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