- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 18, 2001

KABUL, Afghanistan As the American flag went up in the Afghan capital yesterday after nearly 13 years, a revitalized Kabul restored a variety of freedoms denied under the Taliban rule.
Women, who were previously forbidden from appearing in public, flock the streets freely a month after the Taliban fled the city.
Now that the Taliban's ban on music, pictures and other forms of entertainment has been lifted, shops again sell music tapes, photographs and handicrafts. Love songs, Indian film soundtracks and other music blares from radios and vehicles.
Small bookshops in Kabul display Irish author James Joyce's Ulysses, Moscow's outdated Marxist texts, a smattering of U.S. political and historical books plus analytical works by noted Afghans.
A major sign that Kabul is on the road to recovery came yesterday when the U.S. Embassy reopened in a formal ceremony.
To the strains of the national anthem piped over a sound system, a four-man Marine honor guard bore the American flag forward and then carefully raised it the same flag that had flown over the embassy when it was evacuated on Jan. 31, 1989.
"Today's ceremony symbolizes the return, after more than a decade of absence, of the United States to Afghanistan," said James F. Dobbins, the special U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, as he presided over the rain-soaked ceremony in the embassy's dilapidated front courtyard. "We are here, and we are here to stay."
For now, the embassy building will be used as a liaison office, housing a small group of American diplomats. A charge d'affaires will be appointed in coming weeks, and then an ambassador in coming months, Mr. Dobbins said.
The last U.S. ambassador in Kabul, Adolph Dubs, was kidnapped by Islamic militants in 1979. He was killed by crossfire in a botched rescue attempt by Afghan security agents.
The embassy functioned without an ambassador until the last of its staff left in 1989.
The embassy was one of many long-abandoned diplomatic outposts in the capital being rushed into service before Afghanistan's interim government is inaugurated Saturday. Turkey, NATO's only Muslim member state, also reopened its embassy yesterday. Britain, Italy and several other countries also have reopened their embassies.
After the Taliban seized power in 1996, the country was blacklisted by the international community and the only people who made money were smugglers, warlords and Taliban officials.
Since the Taliban fled the city on Nov. 13, fast cash has been flowing into the pockets of translators, drivers, hotel operators, guides and anyone else lucky enough to work for the thousands of international troops, aid workers and foreign correspondents.
Shop windows are covered with photographs of assassinated Northern Alliance commander Ahmed Shah Masood, who is widely revered in Kabul as a benevolent, saintly figure.
Outside, Kabul's rural, medieval ambience bustles with new yellow-and-white taxis even though most people are too poor to use them.
Near the narrow Kabul River which meanders through the capital, a man sits on the sidewalk, offering to sell a handful of plastic buttons, metal screws and bottle openers.
Russian troops, previously loathed by most Afghans, do not attract hostility here anymore.
"The Russians are here?" said a surprised university graduate. "I can't believe the Russians have come back."
Moscow's Red Army occupied Afghanistan for 10 years from 1979 to '89, and more than 1 million Afghans died during the war between the Soviet Union's forces and U.S.-backed Islamic guerrillas.
"We don't hate the Russians now because this time they have come to help us," an unemployed man said.
After one month without the Taliban's severe punishments and restrictions, Kabul's brittle peace is now in the hands of grim, scruffy Northern Alliance men armed with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.
Shortly after sunset, however, Kabul's dark streets are deserted. Residents warn each other not to go out at night because of thieves and soldiers at checkpoints who demand bribes.
"Foreign forces must come to Afghanistan to help us have peace," said a soldier carrying a Kalashnikov assault rifle on his shoulder.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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