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A Kabul flag shop that started during Afghanistan’s Soviet era retools yet again

Worker collecting newly hand-printed Taliban flags
A worker collects newly hand-printed Taliban flags in a workshop at a market in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sunday.
(Bernat Armangue / Associated Press)

A small flag shop, tucked away in the courtyard of a Kabul market, has documented Afghanistan’s turbulent history over the decades with its ever-changing merchandise.

Now the shop is filled with white Taliban flags, emblazoned with the Muslim statement of faith from the Quran in black Arabic lettering.

On Sunday, four teenage boys leaned over white fabric draped on a table illuminated by fluorescent lights and filled the template for the Quranic verse with black ink. Finished flags were hung over a balcony railing to dry.

The owner, Wahidullah Honarwer, 58, said that before the Taliban seized Kabul, the Afghan capital, on Aug. 15, he produced flags from all nations that had diplomatic relations with Afghanistan.

Honarwer still has those flags in stock.

“The Taliban came over and saw all those flags and said nothing to us,” he said, sitting behind a computer in his shop. He said the Taliban told him to hang on to those flags until the situation stabilizes.

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Since taking power, Taliban officials have sprouted in all major Afghan ministries, embedding themselves in the bureaucracy they have inherited.

Honarwer said he’s been in the flag business for almost four decades, beginning at a time when a Soviet-backed government was in power in the 1980s. The Soviets withdrew in 1989 and their local communist allies pulled out in 1992, followed by a period of rule by warlords and civil war.

The Taliban ruled from 1996-2001, when a U.S.-led invasion expelled the group. The Taliban retook control as U.S. and NATO forces withdrew from Afghanistan by the end of August.

It was not immediately clear if Honarwer’s flag shop was open throughout all four decades. He says that he spent 27 years in exile in Pakistan but that he’ll now stay in Afghanistan, no matter who is in charge.

“I love Afghanistan and I want to live here,” he said. “Whatever regime comes, my business is on and will continue.”


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