Goodbye Afghanistan: As Nato Forces Leave, Kabul Is Left in Limbo

Photo by Seamus Murphy / VII. The Stars and Stripes on show at this barber shop in Kabul’s western Karte Char district.

With the Taliban in violent resurgence, VII’s Seamus Murphy captures a country at a deadly crossroads in this photography special for The Sunday Times Magazine.

It has been 20 years since US-led forces toppled the Taliban regime in Afghanistan following the 9/11 terror attacks. The militants, who rose to power amid civil war in 1996, had cast what the photographer Seamus Murphy calls “a doctrinal pall of joyless gloom over people known for their love of life”. Under the Taliban music and dancing were banned, women were largely confined to the home and girls could not go to school. Women were often flogged or even executed for breaking rules. Now, with American and British troops pulling out of Afghanistan, the Taliban violently seizing swathes of the country and Isis terrorists at large, many fear a return to those days. In March three female journalists and one female doctor were murdered in Jalalabad. Dozens of schoolgirls were killed in a bombing in Kabul in May. While most attacks on women have been claimed by Isis, the Afghan government accuses the Taliban, who deny responsibility. Murphy visited Kabul this spring and found a resilient population clinging on to their freedoms amid a growing fear of civil war. “Minutes after the latest bombing, merchants are back freshening their vegetables with sprays of water and shoe traders are cleaning their footwear with feather dusters,” he says. “But with the US withdrawal and the progress of the Taliban, the future begins to look all too tragic and sadly familiar.”