The Taliban banned dozens of seemingly harmless activities and hobbies in Afghanistan during their rule from 1996 to 2001 – including kite flying, soap operas, pigeon racing, haircuts fantasy and even music.
These made a comeback in the years that followed, but fears grow that they will be banned again if die-hard Islamists return to power.
The insurgents have made huge military and territorial gains since US troops began their final withdrawal in May, and their leaders say they want Afghanistan to return to being an Islamic emirate ruled by religious leaders.
AFP examines some of the activities banned by the Taliban and the fears of those who now participate.
Sayed Mohammad earns his living as a professional musician playing the japani, a traditional stringed instrument from Central Asia that he first learned in his youth.
He still remembers the evening twenty years ago when the Taliban broke into a house where he and his friends were playing music and singing songs.
According to the strict interpretation of Islam by the Taliban, only the human voice should produce music – and only in praise of God.
“I was young, so I was beaten less than my friends,” said Mohammad, now 40, from the former insurgent stronghold of Kandahar.
“I was still unable to stand for three days,” he added.
He was lucky, he said, describing how on another occasion the Taliban cut off the fingers of a friend of his for playing japani.
When the insurgents were ousted, Mohammad celebrated by attending a concert.
âWhen the music played, I felt a tremor run through my body out of sheer joy,â he said.
âThe joy that our country is free and that people are now free to start a new life. “
Since then, many Afghans like Mohammad have become professional musicians and singers.
“There is no pleasure in life if you live in fear,” the father of eight told AFP.
He is determined to pursue his passion even as the Taliban return to power.
“It’s like an addiction. Even if they cut our fingers off, we’ll keep playing music.”
In a small shop in Kabul, the Afghan capital, esthetician Farida transforms a shy young Afghan woman into a radiant bride-to-be.
Oversized false lashes are delicately glued, followed by the application of a rich carmine red lipstick. Then comes the eyeshadow, before the beige and ocher blush is delicately applied with a brush.
Despite its hectic popularity, Farida’s beauty salon is one of hundreds across the country facing an uncertain future.
The Taliban severely restricted the movement and activities of women and girls during their rule and banned beauty salons from operating in public.
“If they return, we will never have the freedom we have now,” said Farida, 27, who asked not to be identified further.
“They don’t want women to work.”
Farida’s shop is busiest on Thursday and Friday – weekends in Afghanistan, when hundreds of people gather for huge wedding ceremonies.
Out of sight of men, women come to be pampered for a few hours.
Beauty comes at a price, however. At Farida Salon, one of the most popular in Kabul, a full treatment package can cost up to $ 300.
âI think the Taliban will force us to leave when they come,â Farida said, adding that she would like to move to Canada if the opportunity arises.
The kite maker
In a bustling Kabul Market shop surrounded by hundreds of colorful kites of all sizes, Zelgai says he is determined not to abandon the business his family has run for generations – and it has already flown with the wind.
The Taliban banned kite flying on the grounds that it distracted young men from prayer and other religious activities, but Zelgai and his family continued to operate.
“Of course, we did it in secret,” the 59-year-old man told AFP in his shop in the capital’s Shor Bazaar.
His colorful store has hundreds of fragile prefabricated kites for sale, and he also takes orders for elaborate custom designs.
And business has skyrocketed in the years since the Taliban was ousted.
âThis is freedomâ¦ we can present and sell our kites openly without any fear,â Zelgai said.
The much-loved national pastime gained a reputation overseas after Afghan author Khaled Hosseini’s 2003 bestselling novel “The Kite Runner” was turned into a film.
Today, when the wind is right, thousands of kites can be seen fluttering in the clear blue sky of Afghanistan.
Some are engaged in combat, with pilots trying to outdo themselves with their flight skills and some using glass encrusted twine to cut the strings of their opponents.
“People would suffer if it was banned. Thousands of families are surviving because of it,” Zelgai said.
The day Manizha Talash started breakdancing, she knew she would become a target for the Taliban.
Talash is the only female member of a group of mostly Hazara boys who breakdance in Kabul, usually in secret.
The 18-year-old has the support of her mother, who has several jobs to support the family after her husband disappeared a few years ago.
But for Talash, who dreams of representing Afghanistan at the Olympics, the risks of continuing are multiple.
Not only is she a girl participating in a prohibited activity, but she is also a member of the Hazara community, considered heretical by some radical Muslims.
âIf the Taliban had not changed and locked women in their homes and violated their rights, then life would be meaningless to me and millions of other Afghan women,â said Talash.
Despite the risks – the troop were forced to change training locations after receiving death threats – they are determined to pursue their passion.
There have been pioneering women in many fields in Afghanistan, and Talash now sees herself as one of them.
âWe didn’t have female police officers before, now you see them everywhere,â she said, wearing a black t-shirt, cap and leggings – an outfit that would be anathema to them. Taliban.
“I took the risk of becoming a target. I have fear in my heart but I will not give up.”
The shisha smoker
On the bank of a river running through the eastern city of Jalalabad, Mohammad Saleem and his friends gather every evening to smoke shisha, an ancient hobby that is experiencing a kind of rebirth across the world.
âSmoking shisha is very normal right now in Afghanistan,â Saleem said, blowing the fumes of fruit-flavored tobacco from a bubbling hookah.
But the Taliban say it is an intoxicant – something prohibited by the Quran.
Shisha cafes have sprung up across the country since the fall of the Taliban, serving hot saffron tea to busy customers with their pipes.
The owner of the cafe, Bakhtyar Ahmad, thinks the habit is a good way to keep young people off the streets – or indulge in worse vices, such as drugs.
âThere is peace here. We serve shisha and we play music in the cafe,â Ahmad said.
âIf the Taliban come back with their old ideas, they will arrest us.
Shisha smokers agree.
âIt won’t be possible to go picnicking or smoke shisha by a river like now,â Saleem said.
Business is booming at Mohammad Ghaderi’s salon in the western town of Herat, with young men lining up for a fancy shave or haircut to match their favorite Bollywood or Hollywood actor.
âAfghanistan has entered a new world,â said Ghaderi, a barber for almost 10 years.
“There are more hairdressers now, more young people are turning to fashion … the government is not against it like the Taliban were.”
While rural men tend to stick with Islamic styles – a shaved upper lip, a beard longer than a man’s fist – the townspeople are a parade of the latest fashions.
But Ghaderi and his clients fear their individualism will end if the Taliban return.
“We are concerned that if the Taliban entered the city and the bazaar, they could be the same as 20 years ago,” he said.
“Again, women will be in burqas and young men will not be free to do whatever they want,” added Sanaullah Amin, a regular customer.