Bowling in Kabul: Amid war, Afghan youth play music and sports, hunt for jobs and love


Afghan singer Matin talks with his girlfriend in a Kabul cafe last month. (Morteza Nikoubazl/Reuters)

Amid the news of bombings, political rivalries and Afghanistan’s uncertain future as U.S. troops depart, the daily life of the nation’s young people is hardly noticed by the outside world.

In rural areas, the rhythms of farming and family exist much as they have for generations. But in the capital, the younger generation enjoys access to information and freedoms that were unthinkable in the dark days of civil war and Taliban oppression in the 1990s.


Mahmoud Hejran, second from left, sings and Zabih Hosseini, center, plays as they and their bandmates in Tanin return to their music studio after a live TV performance in Kabul. (Morteza Nikoubazl/Reuters)

As these photographs illustrate, the lives of Kabul’s young people are defined not just by war and violence, but also by their striving — for work, relationships, even artistic expression. Kabul has popular rock bands, rappers, actors and fashion models. Kids hang out with their friends outside mosques and shrines, stroll in city parks under fir trees, and gather at bowling alleys, frozen-yogurt shops, cafes and pool halls.

A host of new television programs, wider access to the Internet, and the presence of numerous American troops and diplomats have challenged social mores in one of the world’s more conservative countries.


A mannequin in a Kabul shop window. (Morteza Nikoubazl/Reuters)

Women watch a sports ceremony at a Kabul stadium. (Morteza Nikoubazl/Reuters)

Afghanistan is young — nearly two-thirds of its people are younger than 25 — and youths are becoming key players in the nation’s politics.

During this month’s presidential election, all the major candidates tried to woo the youth vote, posting campaign updates on Facebook and Twitter and sending text messages. And politicians and observers speculated that urban youths may be breaking out of the allegiance to ethnic blocs that has long defined friends and enemies here.


A man and woman chat in an outdoor area of a Kabul cafe. (Morteza Nikoubazl/Reuters)

Like other Afghan voters, young people said they wanted better security, a good education and — crucially — jobs. As U.S. troops withdraw and the torrent of American aid slows, young people worry about whether they will slide into harder times.

“The U.S. is not dumping any more money in here. No one’s spending like they were in 2010 or 2011,” said Khalid Safar, a 29-year-old taxi driver who was sitting cross-legged in the back of his station wagon outside a Shiite shrine on a recent day, waiting for customers. A couple of years ago, a good day for him meant earning $30; now it is $5. And this with a degree from Kabul University. “People are getting poorer,” he said, “day by day.”


An art student in Kabul uses his cellphone as he leans against a graffiti-covered wall at a cultural and educational center. (Morteza Nikoubazl/Reuters)

This is part of an occasional series offering
a fresh perspective, in words and photographs,
on the people and places shaping today’s world.

Joshua Partlow is The Post’s bureau chief in Mexico. He has served previously as the bureau chief in Kabul and as a correspondent in Brazil and Iraq.
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