In Mazar, Afghans enjoy life as fighting draws near

Mon Jun 1, 2015 6:24pm EDT
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By Abdul Saboor and Paritosh Bansal

MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan (Reuters) - It is late afternoon and slivers of sunlight stream in through an exhaust fan, cutting through multicolored strobe lights and shisha smoke in a basement karaoke club, one of more than a dozen in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif.

About a dozen young men lounge around on sofas, belting out ballads in Dari and clapping along to the music.

"Usually in the evening after my job I come here to drink tea, coffee, smoke shisha and have fun," said Najibullah, 27, a businessman.

Mazar-i-Sharif, the capital of Balkh province, is the one of the last oases of calm in the war-torn country.

But that is increasingly coming under threat. As a resurgent Taliban make their most intense push in recent years in the northern provinces of Afghanistan, residents here are worrying about war spilling into their city.

"Everything depends on security," said Farangis Sowgand, a member of the provincial council and a women's activist. "When there is no security there is no life."

On April 9, weeks before the start of the annual fighting season, militants armed with rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons stormed a court in the city, killing eight people, including the district police chief.

The province’s economy has slowed with the rest of Afghanistan, where the growth rate is estimated to have fallen to 2 percent in 2014 from 3.7 percent in 2013, and an average of 9 percent during 2003-12, according to the World Bank.   Continued...

Afghan youths smoke shisha at a basement karaoke club in Mazar-i-Sharif, June 1, 2015.  REUTERS/Anil Usyan