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Kabul’s Old City Slows Down but Keeps Breathing

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Kabul’s Old City Slows Down but Keeps Breathing

 Kabul today, with a population of more than five million, is totally different from the past. Kabul’s Old city with long history, political game changers, rich culture and old buildings which are being replaced by new buildings, still exists today.  

In 2010, when I was 12 years old, my family moved from the countryside of Ghazni Province to live in the urban city of Kabul. When we arrived, my uncle took me on an incredible journey to introduce me to the city which was my new home. Everything in Kabul was alien for someone like me who was coming from a rural part of Afghanistan.  
My uncle purposely took me to Kabul’s Old City. It was very different from the other parts of the city – the people, buildings and culture were unlike the other parts I had seen. He didn’t tell me many things. He showed me the presidential palace located a mile away from the old city. The Defense Ministry lies at the back of the palace, the Finance Ministry and Afghanistan’s Central Bank is located next to the palace. In all, he said one thing, “Kabul’s Old City is the heart of political and financial power in Afghanistan.” 
I didn’t know at the time that Kabul’s Old City is one of the oldest towns in the region or that the city was a battleground for Alexander the Great. The fight against Arabs invading Afghanistan to introduce Islam in 642 AD was fought here. Kabul’s Old City was the main target of British forces when they invaded Afghanistan in 1838. I also didn’t know approximately 15,000 British and Indian troops were massacred in Kabul’s Old City in 1842. And that later in history, the people of Kabul’s Old City pressured King Zaher to change the political system from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy after he had been leading the country for 40 years. Nor did I know that Kabul’s Old City was where people stood up against the Soviet-backed regime in 1985. 
But currently, very few of the descendants of the political game changers remain in Kabul’s Old City. Most of them have fled the country. “Let me count the families with ancestors who were raised and died in the town,” said an old local man. “We are only five families who have origins in the city.” 
Most current residents of the town have origins in different parts of the country. Many people have come from Kandahar. Many others from Bamyan in Central Afghanistan. 
The city is a mix of different ethnic groups. Although they are different from each other, they have one common ground; their ancestral homes are not Kabul’s Old City.  
In the old time of Kabul, people lived on different streets based on their occupations. Singers had a famous alley called “Kharabat,” governmental officials lived on a street called “Formulia.” Although the street names remain, the people have left. 
The early residents of Kabul’s Old City had a rich culture. Some parts of the culture have survived. Nowruz (New Year) festivities, playing with dogs, and kite running, for instance, still draws smiles on Afghan faces.     But some parts of the culture have vanished with the people who fled the country. Chub Bazy, literally translated as wood game, for instance, was a game that entertained the residents of Kabul’s Old City. “Kabul residents were fonder of the wood game than anything else. In the days when the game was popular, in addition to Kabul residents, people from the outskirts of Kabul were spectators of the game,” Mohammad Asif Ahang wrote in Old Kabul.
In addition, many values, games, and practices of Kabul’s old, rich culture Kabul have faded away and been replaced by a different culture of the new Kabulis. As new generations of people have inhabited the city, the culture has adapted to meet their needs. In Kabul’s Old City there were groups of people referred to as Kakaha or Aiyaran who supported the poor people in the city. But in today’s Kabul, these charitable people have disappeared and now there are troublesome gangs of youth who call themselves Kakaha.
In Kabul’s Old City, many buildings have suffered from decay and destruction. Nobody expects people to tolerate the hardships of four decades of war which Kabul residents have faced.
Historic buildings, which are symbols of Kabul’s Old City, are being replaced with new, modern construction. In the heart of Kabul, Kabul’s Old City is surrounded by new shops, supermarkets and buildings.
 The last remnants of the long history and rich culture of Kabul’s Old city are the few remaining old row homes, old schools, old mosques and streets and passageways which have been tunneled beneath the town. These buildings convey names, messages, and the history of the city; reflections of the people who lived there and what they did. 
“People who are rich enough destroy old buildings and build new ones,” said Painda Mohammad, 70, who has been a resident of Kabul since King Zaher. “Son, the town was fine, but war has turned it to ruins.”