- The Washington Times - Monday, December 17, 2001

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan A woman's voice croons at ear-splitting volume through the dusty carpeted lobby of the Afghan Hotel in downtown Kandahar.
From a boom box, a bit squeaky after seven years of disuse, the voice wails a mournful love ballad of a young woman longing to be with the boy she loves.
"Afghans love this kind of music. If the Taliban ever caught you listening to it, they would hang you," said Gullai, 19, who like many Afghans uses just one name.
As the fasting month of Ramadan ended and the three-day Eid ul Ftir festival began yesterday, the people of Afghanistan continued to rediscover simple joys that had been banned by the former Taliban rulers with their fanatical brand of Islam.
The Taliban forbade anything that hinted of fun, from music to kite-flying. Instead, they forced people to spend hours each day praying and the rest of the waking hours studying approved Islamic texts.
Amanullah Kahn, 11, held up a simple kite of blue plastic stretched across two sticks and boasted: "I made this as soon as the Taliban left."
A dozen playmates stood around waiting for the next gust of wind to see if it would fly.
Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban movement in the early 1990s, was the first big city that fell to the Taliban and the last city they gave up under pressure from U.S. bombs and threats from opposition tribal armies.
In other parts of Afghanistan, new rulers have had a head start and have begun dismantling some of the more onerous Taliban restrictions. They are reopening schools for girls and putting TV back on the air. It had been banned as un-Islamic.
In Kabul, Shukria Ismati, 28, a slim salon owner with shoulder-length black hair, rested her neck on the back of the chair as she deftly plucked her eyebrows.
"I can come here regularly now to make myself beautiful. Before, I used to go sometimes to some illegal places in people's homes, but it was dangerous," she said.
In Kandahar, boys kicked around a soccer ball in the otherwise deserted city stadium. The Taliban had banned soccer, taken over the stadium and turned it into a Roman-type circus for public executions. Thousands would come each week to watch convicted murderers bound, shot through the head and hung up at midfield. Thieves had their hands amputated in public view.
"There was no soccer, so we watched people being executed every week right in front of our eyes," said Fida Mohammad, 20, a neighborhood tailor who stood by watching.
The Taliban takeover initially won praise from locals for restoring order to a lawless town of competing warlords and toll-extorting bandits.
"Under the Taliban, things were so secure you could leave a kilogram of gold in the middle of the road, come back the next day and it would be there. No one would dare to even touch it," said Agha Mohammed, a truck driver.
When the Taliban left Kandahar earlier this month, the threat of pre-Taliban lawlessness loomed amid reports of looting and rival warlords taking up position in different parts of the city.
Hamid Karzai, the designated leader of an interim national government in Kabul, spent days negotiating the Taliban's withdrawal and balancing competing tribal interests to set up a temporary system to police Kahdahar with tribal fighters.
This past week, the city grew noticeably more calm, so much so that U.S. Marines drove through the city en route to an airport that they now occupy with scarcely an eyebrow being raised.
And for better or worse, people kept striking at Taliban taboos. A guard with his AK-47 assault rifle resting limply over his shoulder puffed on a cigarette spiked with hashish within sight of a Taliban sign printed in English and warning that drug abuse destroys one's mind.
It is still difficult to tell whether occasional explosions come from distant bombs dropped by U.S. jets or nearby bombs from people shooting off rockets and grenades to celebrate the end of Taliban rule.
Several revelers have dusted off their boom boxes, pointing them out a window and blasting the neighborhood with impromptu 3 a.m. wake-up serenades.
"I'm waiting for you here, alone. Please come to me. Let's run away and get married," the lyrics of one popular song shot across a darkened plaza probably the first time the song had been played openly since the Taliban took control of Kandahar in 1994.
"This is an order from God for the music to be blasting," said Wali Mohammad, 25, night clerk at a Kahdahar hotel.

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