Hiding books, buying burqas: Afghanistan prepares for Taliban rule

Ruhullah Khapalwak in More Intelligent Life:

When the fighting got so near that the walls of his house shook, Abdul, a retired teacher in Kandahar, decided it was time to hide his books. Reading has been a respite for Abdul since the Taliban began their extraordinary advance on Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second city, a few months ago. Until recently, Kandahar hosted one of the largest American military bases in Afghanistan; Abdul fears that insurgents will take revenge now they are in control of the city. “I have not slept all night,” he says. “The government has failed our country.”

Abdul is part of a book club that allows people to swap titles with each other: Kandahar has no libraries. Self-help books, many of them by foreign authors, have helped him manage his anxiety. He also reads essays on politics and terrorism. But even such simple pleasures are now under threat. The author of one of his books about fundamentalism was assassinated in Kabul a few weeks ago. Abdul owns a collection by Kandahar’s most famous poet, Abdul Bari Jahani, who now lives in America. Last time the Taliban were in charge they banned his books.

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