I went on the lookout for the Queen’s portrait…and located concern within the Taliban’s weird bazaar

I went on the lookout for the Queen’s portrait…and located concern within the Taliban’s weird bazaar


THE greatest place in Kabul for army booty was at all times the Bush Bazaar.

Many of the items on the market had fallen off US lorries — so cheeky tradesmen named the market after the previous president who invaded Afghanistan in 2001.

© Jerome Starkey 2021

Market stalls are promoting US army uniforms and tools to native and Islamic fighters[/caption]

© Jerome Starkey 2021

Solar man Jerome Starkey with a number of the 16,000 pairs of night time imaginative and prescient goggles that had been gifted by America to Afghanistan – a few of that are on the black market in Kabul[/caption]

However once I visited the market yesterday there was a transparent signal how Kabul has modified.

The president’s title had been painted over.

And the opposite buyers had been Taliban.

Three of the Islamic militants requested how a lot it will price to suit their Kalashnikovs with mounts for laser sights and torches.

They requested about US-style physique armour.

Within the slang of the British military they wished to look “ally” — and so they had been very pleasant about it.

Regardless of the horrific studies of revenge killings and beatings meted out elsewhere within the nation the troopers I’ve met round Kabul have been well mannered and cheap.

They’re extra shocked to see me than I’m to see them.

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The issue for me on the Bush Bazaar was the shopkeepers had been fearful of the Taliban.

The US gave Afghanistan 16,000 pairs of night time imaginative and prescient goggles together with half 1,000,000 weapons, most of which had been captured within the Taliban’s lightning advance final month.

However as an alternative of flooding the black market, the availability has dried up.

A shopkeeper instructed me: “Troopers used to deliver issues right here.

“Typically individuals who labored on the bases, like cleaners and cooks, would deliver issues right here.

“However now the bases are closed, the troopers have all gone, and the Taliban have taken over. They’re very strict and individuals are fearful of them.”

Even earlier than the Taliban got here, night time imaginative and prescient goggles had been extremely wanted — and nearly at all times stolen — so that they had been stored underneath the counter.

The sellers instructed me to come back again in a couple of hours, so along with an Afghan colleague we set off for the outdated British embassy to seek for the lacking portraits of the Queen.

Diplomats fled in chaos final month and International Secretary Dominic Raab claimed Her Majesty’s portraits had been destroyed earlier than they retreated to Kabul Airport.

A kind of portraits used to hold within the embassy foyer the place receptionists sat behind bulletproof glass and guests traded their passports for guests’ passes.


The Queen was sporting a pale gown with a blue sash and a tiara. Subsequent to her was Prince Philip.

The drive throughout city took about 20 minutes — which was quicker then I remembered.

The site visitors in Kabul is horrible however there are hardly any checkpoints now as a result of there is no such thing as a level on the lookout for Taliban.

They’re in all places.

A part of the journey took me on foot alongside the banks of the Kabul river, the place abruptly I heard a commotion and a Taliban pick-up roared previous with at the very least on prisoner on the again.

He was surrounded by Talibs and wailing as one of many militants whipped him with what seemed like a skinny strip of birch.

A shopkeeper noticed the shock on my face and laughed.

“A thief!” he stated enthusiastically. “It’s good the Taliban caught him.”

Alongside the way in which we see two grand pianos at a government-run recording studio which had been most likely destroyed by the Taliban — who suppose music is towards Islam.

Arriving on the embassy gate — a concrete blast wall and lookout tower with rolls of razor wire — the very first thing that struck me was that one of many Taliban guards had a navy baseball cap with the phrases “British Embassy Guard Power”.

Many of the males who wore these caps had been left behind final month when our troops flew out with out them.

They’d been on a bus to Kabul airport however the Taliban turned them again

Now they’re fearing for his or her lives.

To get on this time I didn’t want my passport.

© Jerome Starkey 2021

A Taliban guard passes the Royal Anglian regimental flag exterior the abandoned British Embassy[/caption]

© Jerome Starkey 2021

Embossed place settings left on the embassy[/caption]

I had my Taliban Press Go — a letter-headed notepaper from Islamic Emirate, which was what the Taliban name Afghanistan, saying I’m free to do my work.

The guard commander waved us previous all of the outdated safety factors

On the entrance to the chancery there have been clear indicators folks left in a rush.

A suitcase burst open with garments on the road, an overturned trolley in the midst of the street and break up cardboard bins stuffed with sleeping baggage and blankets.

A couple of yards away, on the pavement, a flag was snagged on the thorns of a rosebush.

It belonged to the Royal Anglian regiment.

The Taliban had been adamant the chancery was out of bounds.

The doorways had been locked so we snooped around the residences as an alternative.

Papers which ought to have been burnt had been strewn behind a home with particulars of Afghan employees and of people that had utilized for jobs.


Defence Secretary Ben Wallace stated Boris Johnson “might be asking questions” concerning the blunder, including: “Clearly it’s not ok.”

In a gaudy villa of the British Council a protected door had been ripped off its hinges.

My Taliban guides clamped the scarves to their noses after they opened a fridge with rotting meals.

Inside was a additionally a drinks assortment: Martini, Drambuie, Pernod and Angostura Bitters for the diplomats’ pink gin and tonics.

Sadly, no signal of Her Majesty’s portrait.

The protocol, the International Workplace stated, is for all photographs of the Queen to be eliminated in a diplomatic bag or destroyed on website.

Exterior the gate I met a civil servant who hadn’t been paid for months.

He had resorted, in desperation, to promoting Taliban flags to try to make ends meet.

© Jerome Starkey 2021

The Bush Bazaar in Kabul, named after President George W. Bush in 2001 has had his title daubed out because the the Taliban took energy[/caption]

© Jerome Starkey 2021

Units of vandalised drums on the authorities music studio[/caption]

© Jerome Starkey 2021

A Taliban guard inspects considered one of two grand pianos which were destroyed on the authorities run recording studio[/caption]

With time to kill earlier than we head again to the market, we stopped on the nationwide soccer stadium the place the Taliban held a public execution in 1999, capturing lifeless a mum of 5 in entrance of a packed crowd.

Bilal Ahmad Hamza, 33, the Taliban commander answerable for the bottom, assures me it will not be used for executions in future.

“We’ve different locations for that,” he says.

As we stroll across the grounds considered one of Bilal’s entourage comes up and says: “I used to reside in Chelsea and I labored in Shepherd’s Bush.”

“Are you Taliban?” I requested.

“Sure,” he laughs. After which he exhibits me an image of himself in a cellphone restore kiosk in London.

We’ve a late lunch of kebabs at a well-known Afghan restaurant close to a metropolis park after which head again to the Bush Bazaar.

One of many stall holders has sourced not one, however two units of night time imaginative and prescient goggles.

They work. They’re wonderful. This was cutting-edge tech in 2006 when British troops first went to Helmand.

Night time imaginative and prescient gave Nato forces an edge.

Now everybody should purchase it off the shelf.

Nearly everybody, that’s.

The vendor needs $1,700 {dollars} that I don’t have.

The banks aren’t working in Kabul so money is in brief provide.

And whereas we’ve driving, I’ve been googling night time imaginative and prescient goggles.

They price about the identical value new from sellers within the US.

It’s a aid, in a manner. Some issues haven’t modified.

The cell web is surprisingly good — and town continues to be costly.


A Taliban fighter lords it after the withdrawal of US forces in Kandahar[/caption]

© Jerome Starkey 2021

A Taliban guard on the embassy sporting a British cap[/caption]