Afghanistan – Armed Taliban guard Kabul zoos

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Wild animals in enclosures and weapons in the walkways of the zoo. Among the visitors strolls the Taliban armed with Kalashnikovs and M16 combat rifles.

A child poses with a Taliban weapon.

AFP

In Kabul’s zoo, children jump at the sight of wild animals, begging their parents for ice, just like in any other zoo in the world. One element calls, however: In the midst of the families, the Taliban walk with battle guns on their shoulders.

Eager for selfies, the fighters stroll peacefully after the Friday prayer, the most important of the week. After many years of bitter struggle in the Afghan landscape, it is the first time that many of them have visited a city, let alone a zoo.

While large families settle for picnics on the shady grounds and enjoy packed lunches, ice cream or salted pomegranate seeds, a sweetness especially appreciated in Afghanistan, the Taliban armed with Kalashnikov and M16 rifles guard the enclosures.

A Taliban grabs the antlers of a deer.

A Taliban grabs the antlers of a deer.

AFP

The relative calm of the place suddenly disappears when one of them grabs a deer by its antlers, triggering the cheerfulness of his friends.

Further ahead, six men from the intelligence department – dressed in military fatigue, combat troops filled with ammunition and steel handcuffs, pointed caps and knee pads – stand together for a team photo with a mullah with a turban.

Their photographer, equipped with a telephoto lens, coordinates the recording, which is then carefully examined by the group. One of the Islamists, whose charger is adorned with a Taliban flag, gives up the thumb. Later, other armed men hand over their weapons to boys as young as 8 years old. Then they immortalize the moment with their cell phones.

A kind of attraction

The dozens of armed warriors are a kind of attraction, apart from the animals. Many, however, are unarmed. They wear traditional hats, turbans and shawls. Some have kohl-lined eyes, a makeup that is not uncommon among Afghan men.

But the main attraction of Kabul Zoo remains its lion, soberly christened “The White Lion”, which sleeps in a fence. The “white lion” replaced the male Marjan, the former glory of the place, who died in 2002. A bronze statue of the big cat welcomes visitors upon their arrival. A plaque on his grave reads: “Here lies Marjan, who was about 23 years old. He was the most famous lion in the world.

The statue of Marjan welcomes visitors.

The statue of Marjan welcomes visitors.

AFP

The aquarium and the reptile house are also very popular. Women in burkas, niqabs or simply covered with a veil lead their offspring there. A python is entangled in a large glass structure while goldfish, catfish and turtles swim in aquariums.

“I really like animals, especially those found in our country,” said Abdul Qadir, 40, who works for the anti-terrorism department of the Interior Ministry. “I really like lions,” continues the Taliban, who came with a group of friends – all men.

Asked about the ubiquitous presence of firearms in zoos, unimaginable elsewhere on the planet, Abdul Qadir stresses that his movement was in favor of banning them so that “children or women are not afraid”. The instruction was apparently not heard.

“No weapons in the zoo”

Samir, who is stuck in Kabul and waiting to return to London, where he lives, goes to the zoo with his 6-year-old son Ahmad. The children have been experiencing “very difficult times” since the Taliban took power in mid-August, he said. “They’ve never seen these things before.” “We did not expect them to come so soon. It is quite peaceful in Kabul, but the problem is that given the way they act, people do not feel safe, ”Samir continues.

Nestled between steep hills and next to the Kabul River, access to the zoo costs about 40 cents for Afghans. But some Taliban enter without paying, and openly ignore, for those who can read, the sign that says, “No weapons in the zoo.”

(AFP)

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