Taliban troopers cradling AK-47s and M16 assault rifles mingle amongst households at Kabul Zoo, a novelty expertise for most of the younger fighters from rural Afghanistan.
As guests arrange picnic spots within the shaded grounds, having fun with ice lotions and salted pomegranate seeds, closely armed Taliban gunmen peer into the enclosures housing lions, leopards, camels, wolves, ostriches and macaques.
After years of combating within the countryside, the seize of the capital was the primary time many had entered a big metropolis, not to mention a zoo.
They take selfies and pose for group pictures, however the relative tranquillity is upended all of the sudden when one in every of them grabs a deer by its antlers and his associates roar with laughter.
Posing With Rifles
After Friday prayers, scores of armed Taliban fighters end up — and plenty of extra are with out weapons — sporting conventional hats, turbans and shawls. Some sported the attention make-up widespread amongst Afghan males.
One Taliban member, 40-year-old Abdul Qadir, who now works for the inside ministry, stated he was sightseeing with a bunch of male associates.
“I actually just like the animals, particularly these which might be present in our nation,” he says. “I like lions very a lot.”
Requested concerning the armed presence — extraordinary in different zoos world wide — he says the Taliban have been in favour of barring weapons from the venue in order that “kids or ladies shouldn’t really feel scared”.
The zoo was lengthy a haven for girls, kids and younger lovers in a capital that has little public area for anybody however males.
A unit of six armed males from the Taliban’s intelligence directorate — sporting full army fatigues, fight webbing bursting with ammunition and metal handcuffs, peaked caps and knee pads — huddle for a staff image with a turbaned mullah.
The designated photographer coordinates the shot, which is intently examined by the group afterwards.
A thumbs-up from one of many fighters, with a Taliban flag poking out of his journal pouch, exhibits their approval.
Later, a special group of gunmen provide their rifles to boys as younger as eight, who take snaps with their cellphones.
‘No Weapons In The Zoo’
The showpiece is a lion, named merely “White Lion”, which sleeps on a deck in its enclosure, measuring about 20 metres by 30 metres.
The zoo’s most-treasured occupant was Marjan, a male lion who was a logo of Afghan survival residing by coups, invasions, civil conflict and the Taliban’s first rule, till he died in 2002.
A bronze statue of the massive cat, as soon as injured by a grenade assault, greets guests on their method in, whereas a plaque on its grave reads: “Right here lies Marjan, who was about 23. He was essentially the most well-known lion on the earth.”
One other widespread attraction is the aquarium and reptile home, the place ladies in niqabs, burqas and hijabs shepherd younger ladies and boys across the tanks.
A python is coiled up in a big glass enclosure as goldfish, catfish and turtles swim round in tanks lining the partitions.
Samir, who’s in Kabul ready to return to London the place he lives, is on the zoo together with his younger son and nephew.
He says they’ve been having “a really onerous time” for the reason that Taliban got here to energy in mid-August.
“We did not count on (the Taliban) to come back so rapidly. It is fairly peaceable in Kabul, however the factor is, the way in which they’re, folks do not feel protected.”
Nestled between steep hills and subsequent to the Kabul River, entry to the zoo prices 40 cents for Afghans, though some Taliban troopers stroll in with out paying, flagrantly disregarding the signal saying “No Weapons within the Zoo”.
(Aside from the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV employees and is revealed from a syndicated feed.)