HOPE ROLLS IN: Residents of Kabul, some exuberant, some cautious, watch Northern Alliance tanks rumble down the streets of the capitalWith an abandon he said he had not felt in years, 17-year-old Ahmad Zaki chased down a soccer ball on the dusty Wazeer field in central Kabul on Thursday, November,HOPE ROLLS IN: Residents of Kabul, some exuberant, some cautious, watch Northern Alliance tanks rumble down the streets of the capitalWith an abandon he said he had not felt in years, 17-year-old Ahmad Zaki chased down a soccer ball on the dusty Wazeer field in central Kabul on Thursday, November 15. His teammates and opponents yelped in delight as they ran after him, laughing at the tightness of his athletic shorts. He hadn’t worn them since he was 13.Their skills rusty but their enthusiasm at a peak Zaki and his friends took advantage of the third day of the Taliban’s absence in the Afghan capital to break at least two rules laid down by the hardline regime after it captured Kabul in 1996: playing sports and wearing short pants. “I’ve been waiting for this moment since I was young,” Zaki said, out of breath during a pause in the game. “Now I hope I can play every day.”KICKING AWAY THE PAST: A Kabul civilian pays his tribute to a dead soldier of his former Taliban rulersSmall scenes like this played out across the capital in the immediate aftermath of Northern Alliance troops taking control of the streets on November 13. They were the first signs of the tentative rebirth of a city. A boxing club – closed in 1997 by the Taliban, who wanted to turn it into a sandal factory – was refitted with its former punching bags and readied to reopen.In the Jamhuriat marketplace, cassette vendors blared previously forbidden Indian and Persian pop music from tiny loudspeakers, and openly hawked cassettes featuring pictures of unveiled beauties to crowds of young men and boys. Even a few western titles, such as a recording by Jennifer Lopez and the soundtrack of Legends of the Fall, could be found among the formerly dreary music selection.advertisementA few days earlier, customers who hoped to buy such wares had to arrange to meet the vendor at a secret location. “Under the Taliban, we were allowed to sell only religious music and recorded readings of the holy Koran,” said Ahmad Farid, who operates a cassette stall with his brother, Nisar. THE COLOUR OF VENGEANCE: Bodies of Taliban soldiers on the road leading to Kabul”Now I think business will improve.” It had been a heady 48 hours. As Northern Alliance troops rolled into Kabul on November 13 morning despite assurances they would remain outside the city, tens of thousands of surprised residents poured into the streets to welcome the new force in control of the capital, with expressions ranging from cautious optimism to uninhibited joy.After a hasty withdrawal of Taliban officials and military forces on Monday night, an estimated 6,000 Northern Alliance soldiers and police waited just hours before capturing Afghanistan’s biggest prize. At 10 a.m., the first truck-loads of heavily armed fighters entered the city from the north, fanning out to key staging areas, and drawing cheers, especially from young people who had chafed at the repressive Taliban regime.A cart carrying civilians gives way to a Northern Alliance T-62 tank speeding towards Rabat”This is unbelievable, like suddenly being let out of prison,” said 23-year-old Wafiulah Darwish as he waved at passing trucks overloaded with soldiers. “Last night the Taliban left, today the United Front arrives, and tomorrow I will shave my beard and buy a pair of jeans.”But many older residents of Kabul were more guarded in their enthusiasm, having endured nearly a quarter-century of almost constant clashes between forces tugging for control of the capital. “The mujahideen have been here before and made a mess of things, just like the Taliban and the Russians,” said Nabit Marzai, 63. “We will see if this lot can behave better.”Despite his doubts, though, Marzai could not help but return the traditional Afghan greeting, his right hand over his heart, to a group of soldiers. Fears that a Northern Alliance takeover of Kabul could result in wide – spread looting and violence seemed, for the moment, largely unfounded. But the deployment also failed to prevent scattered incidents of mob violence.LIFE STYLE, STRIFE-STYLE: A young girl stands in front of dresses on display in Kabul. Women forced to wear burqas were suddenly welcome at shops selling western-style clothing, reflecting a sartorial tectonic shiftIn a neighbourhood near the Kabul airport, more than a hundred Afghan residents dragged a man they identified as Pakistani through the streets, punching him and pelting him with stones to cheers of “Death to Pakistan!” Northern Alliance forces eventually arrived and hustled the man into a bus.At the home of Taliban Defence Minister Mullah Obaidullah, who apparently fled the city on the night of Monday, November 12, Northern Alliance guards kept Pakistan resident Abdul Ghani locked in a downstairs bathroom, his wrists bound with a headscarf. Claiming to have been brought forcibly to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban, Ghani had been “arrested” on the street by Kabul residents early on Tuesday morning, said guard Mohammad Aziz. “We will keep him here until we have the facilities to put him on trial,” said Aziz. advertisementAn Afghan man shakes hands with a teenaged neighbour in the sort of streetside encounter that was banned by the Taliban and would probably give Mullah Omar the shivers”He will not be physically harmed.” Other areas of the city bore more grisly signs of a chaotic shift of power. In a park near the city centre, the bodies of three men identified by onlookers as Taliban sympathisers lay bloodied by multiple gunshot wounds. On the northern outskirts of town, the corpses of four apparent Taliban fighters were strewn by a roadside, their mouths stuffed with Pakistani banknotes by killers angry at the neighbouring country’s support for the Taliban.Widespread looting was reported in the early morning hours of November 13, including at a Red Cross storage facility and the home of one of the organisation’s expatriate staff members.PSSST PLEASURES: Kabulis ogle at postcards of Indian actorsSuch reports were cited by the Northern Alliance as justification for the takeover of the city. “We had not planned to move into Kabul, but when the Taliban left there were many bad elements in the city, with weapons at their disposal who put at risk the safety of the citizens,” said Abdullah Abdullah, the foreign minister of the Northern Alliance’s political wing.Though relatively efficient because of the sheer numbers of soldiers on the streets, the first steps at law enforcement by the Northern Alliance appeared somewhat confused. Newly inaugurated police officers, wearing confiscated traffic warden helmets, checked many cars for weapons, but seemed bewildered in their efforts to control the frenzied flow of automobiles, bicycles, and pedestrians.A man carries a video player out of a shopA few of the city’s traffic wardens who remained after the Taliban’s exit offered tips to their new colleagues. “My bosses fled with the Taliban, but they said I should just go to work as usual,” said Nuraghman Omani, a 13-year veteran of traffic control in Kabul.”Now maybe I will get a promotion. The early changes in the behaviour of Kabul residents were far from universal. At the Shahala family’s home-based, underground beauty parlour, formerly illegal due to the Taliban edict against women wearing makeup, patriarchs barred foreign visitors from seeing the beauticians and their customers. “We do not allow access to our women,” said Sahid Sahala, who declined to give the name of his sister who runs the beauty parlour.A young Afghan shaves for the first time in five years”Even if we open a legitimate salon some day, we will provide access to customers only. As in other areas of Afghanistan, most women in Kabul continued in public to wear the head-to-toe burqas; a few shed the heavy garment and showed their faces for the first time. The Northern Alliance announced that it would encourage women to seek employment outside their homes and to gain an education – both forbidden under Taliban rule. That announcement came over the airwaves of the newly renamed Radio Afghanistan, and the radio station quickly followed the advice; it hired three women to read the news. The station also played popular Afghan music along with public service announcements urging residents to stay calm, obey the law, and return to work.advertisementVANQUISHED: Taliban prisoners on the way to Kabul. Some of the few Taliban sympathisers who remained in Kabul were shot dead, while a suspected Pakistani bore the brunt of mob furyDespite the public relations push, the Northern Alliance had to square many circles. A battle still raged in Jalalabad and Kandahar. The leadership issue was still a question mark. At a traffic booth near the empty Ministry of Communication building, a crowd of about 30 men jostled for a better view of a photocopied image of Ahmed Shah Masood, the Alliance’s war hero, assassinated in September. Most of the onlookers refused to budge as others tried to elbow in for a view.FREEDOM ON AIR: The logo of Radio Afghanistan being reinstalled in Kabul. The station has hired three women newscasters.For at least 15 minutes, those close enough read again and again the quote inscribed below Masood’s photo: “We may find enough food to eat and enough water to drink, but life is meaningless without emancipation.” “We are all still in mourning for our lost leader,” said Bariolai Osmoni, 38. “My only wish is that our country can produce other great leaders who can make Afghanistan proud and independent.”Throw in “peaceful” and “stable” and you have the whole world’s prayers.