Photo Essay: Stories from Kabul, Afghanistan

As part of a USAID project, Abhishek Srivastava worked in Kabul, Afghanistan on AMDEP (Afghanistan Media Development and Empowerment Program). The principal goal of the project is to train and assist Afghan journalists and students of Kabul University on the nuances of reporting. Abhishek tells us stories of people and places in Kabul using his photos as a medium. This is the first in a series of photo-essays on Kabul.


By Abhishek Srivastava, 23 Dec, 2011

1. The remains of the Darul Aman Palace

Built in 1920s by King Amanullah Khan to modernize Afghanistan, is this Darul Aman Palace. Well, not any more.

Located just ten miles from the main city of Kabul, the building was set on fire during the Communist coup of 1978. It was damaged again as rival Mujahideen factions fought for control of Kabul during the early 1990s. Heavy shelling by the Mujahideen after the end of the Soviet invasion left the building a gutted ruin.

The building tells a story of the times the country has withered.


2. Women – Power and powerlessness 

One of woman MPs in Wolesi Jirga, the lower house of the Afghanistan parliament. The women MPs – elected via reservations – are not encouraged to be in a position of power.

This takes me to a few conversations I had in Kabul.

I once asked a male Member of Parliament, ‘how come none of the women nominate themselves for the post of the speaker?’ He replied, ‘who will vote for a woman?’

Another time, I went to an Afghan journalist friend’s home where he, another local Afghan journalist and I ended up watching an old Bollywood film by Sanjeev Kumar, starring Rajesh Khanna and Mumtaz. The film was about the husband (Rajesh Khanna) doubting his wife (Mumtaz) for having an affair with his friend (Sanjeev Kumar). As the plot develops, so does the husband’s doubt. However, his doubt is shown not to have any substance and the allegations he makes are not true. Eventually, the husband slaps the wife and they separate.

The moment the man slaps the wife, both of my journalist friends show no end to their joy and erupt with this immense reassurance in the idea of ‘ideal manhood’. I ask them, ‘what makes you so happy?’ They reply, ‘the woman deserves this’. I say, ‘but why, she has done nothing wrong. The husband is just being an ass!’ They say, ‘we know, but she should be careful of her husband’s doubts and feelings: it’s her duty to imagine all this!’

And these are two well educated journalists of Afghanistan!


3. The people

Meet Haji Rasool, a carpet dealer in Kabul, Afghanistan. He is originally from Uzbekistan, a neighboring country.

Afghanistan largely has four tribes, Pashtoons, Tajiks, Hazras and Uzbeks.
Hamid Karzai, the President of Afghanistan, is a Tajik.

Pashtoons are Pathans and claim to be original Afghans. They are in the majority. Tajiks are from Tajakistan, Uzbeks from Uzbekistan and Hazras come from this province called Bamian. The Bamian province is infamous for the bombing of the Buddha statue by the Taliban.

Hazras and Uzbeks are direct descendants of Ghengiz Khan and the Mongolian clan. Afghanistan fell into the southern part of the silk route, that crosses the high mountains, passed through northern Pakistan, over the Hindu Kush mountains, and into Afghanistan, rejoining the northern route near Merv. The Uzbeks and Hazras are hence a part of the famous Han Dynasty of the traditional Chinese civilization.


4. The Qarga Lake

The Qarga Lake is situated 10kms from the city. It is set in the barren hills, north-west Kabul. This artificial lake was created in the late 50’s by President Daoud as a recreation facility.

I felt blissful entering this serene area with clear air, just a 20 minutes drive from the dusty confines of Kabul. This area is also home to the Kabul Golf Course.


5. Maintaining a vigil

Meet Jameel, a night guard.

This is the city where the Taliban suicide bombers force themselves in and first fire indiscriminately. When they exhaust all their ammunation, they blow themselves up. Guards such as Jameel have to face such threats with nothing more than courage and an inadequate firearm.


6. The skies

If not a bird, you will definitely spot a Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk in Kabul. The sky is flooded with them, mostly transporting NATO officials/soldiers, VVIPs, and UN officials from one point to other. Travelling on road is not a safe option for them.


7. Evenings in Kabul

Kabul at 6 in the evening. The city works between 8am-4pm. Offices close by 4pm, and shops by 6.30pm. I have not seen the concept of street lights in Kabul. In fact, the photo above is from one of the most posh areas in Kabul, called Sher-e-Naw.

The vibrant colorful shops keep the city alive and glimmer the roads till about 7pm. No one is seen venturing out into the city after 8pm. After that, it is only the beautiful dark blue sky to give you company.


8. Trees

The streets in Kabul give a very dry look, pretty much like the climate here. The trees are leafless because of the weather. In the winter, snow takes the place of the leaves, beautifully forming a white layer on the branches.

Kabul in winters appears like a desert; a cold one. It used to have a lot more trees, but the Soviets cut down most of them for security reasons (the mujahadeen hid in them to snipe at the Soviets).

After the Soviets left and the warlords fell to fighting one another, the city was shelled for almost three straight years from 1993 to 1996, destroying or damaging more trees. Then when the Taliban was in power, they paid little attention to planting new trees.

With no Taliban now, trees are being planted, but at a slow pace. At the same time, existing trees are being cut for firewood. If the outer portions of the trees run out, people go for the roots!


9. The Kabul Bread Factory

The famous Kabul Bread Factory was built by the Soviet 40th Army.

This old barren structure standing tall was once feeding mostly the soldiers fighting the civil war. It used to process and grind 141,000 tons of wheat and was used to cook 40,000 tons of food items such as bread, cookies and spaghetti before the wars. However, it was completely destroyed during the wars and all its machinery was looted.

Knowing its history, it felt surreal to look at this structure and feel its stillness.


10. Education

This young boy I met wanted a biscuit. It was a time in the day when he should have been in school.

Afghanistan suffers from a broken education system. It has been particularly bad for girls. The lack of schools in minority villages, long distances of schools from some areas, and cultural traditions have prevented girls from going to school. Where there are no schools, most of the children work in the fields.


The copyright of all photos are with Abhishek Srivastava. Please do not reprint without permission. 


4 thoughts on “Photo Essay: Stories from Kabul, Afghanistan

  1. Pingback: Photo Essay: Stories from Kabul, Afghanistan – Part II « InPEC

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