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Photojournalist Goran Tomasevic returns to a nation transformed, where women’s freedoms are limited and poverty is widespread

Outside a Kabul mosque last month, a prosthetic leg is a stark reminder that Afghanistan is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world. Mosques were crowded due to the Eid al-Adha holiday amid fears of Islamic State militants who oppose Taliban rule.

Globe and Mail photographer Goran Tomasevic has been documenting life in Afghanistan since 2007, when he first visited the country. NATO forces were expanding their peacekeeping operations at the time, as Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters sought to overturn the Afghan government. Last summer, after more than 20 years of conflict, the Taliban succeeded, taking control of Kabul on Aug. 15, 2021.

One year later, Mr. Tomasevic returned to Afghanistan and spent 11 days in the capital. In some ways, he found it unchanged – residents were friendly and welcoming at Mandawi Bazaar in the city’s centre, and market stalls were full. Compared to his previous visits, the streets appeared cleaner and less chaotic.

In other ways, life was noticeably different. “Taliban are everywhere in Kabul,” he reports. All hilltops are guarded. “Their checkpoints are everywhere,” he says, though he adds that in the past, under the previous NATO-backed regime, police stopped him and sometimes asked for bribes. On this visit, Taliban representatives typically left him alone.

Taliban control has changed the lives of Afghans in significant ways. A UN report released in July highlighted the erosion of women’s rights over the past year: Girls are no longer permitted to pursue an education beyond Grade 6, the report noted, and women’s participation in the workplace and other aspects of daily life has been restricted and in many cases taken away.

The UN Mission in Afghanistan also reports that Taliban authorities are cracking down on protests, limiting media freedoms and persecuting people linked to the former government and its security forces. The July report confirmed 160 extrajudicial killings, 178 arbitrary arrests and detentions, and 56 instances of torture.

Poverty is also deepening. Human Rights Watch estimates that 90 per cent of households in Afghanistan don’t have enough food, and acute malnutrition is a serious problem. About 24 million people need vital humanitarian relief, according to the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency.

“Many Afghans live in poverty,” said Mr. Tomasevic, who witnessed grim conditions in a Kabul slum and saw people desperate for food. “I must say this was unusual for me to see men and woman begging for bread in front of the bakery.”

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On the first day of his recent visit, Mr. Tomasevic was careful where he pointed his camera. Would people welcome a visitor representing Western media? “Very quickly I realized people were relaxed and friendly, and most were smiling,” he says. When he came across a Taliban fighter carrying an AK-47 at the Mandawi Bazaar, the man reached out a hand in greeting and agreed to a photo.

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A Taliban fighter enjoys a visit to a game park at Qargha Lake, a popular recreation site outside Kabul. The park was especially busy during the Eid al-Adha holiday weekend, and many Taliban were there, walking around the lake or riding horses.

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During Eid al-Adha, Muslims typically donate food to poor people, giving what they can to those in need. Here, women in front of a bakery are given bread. The begging continued after the holiday ended, though the number of women asking for help decreased.

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Shops in Kabul appeared reasonably well stocked, although some residents said they couldn’t afford to buy what they needed. Bakeries were open and sacks of flour, imported mostly from Uzbekistan, were available for sale in shops and markets. Imported goods such as Marlboro cigarettes, Lurpak butter from Denmark and even high-quality Russian caviar (US$13 for 100g) could be found in some stores as well.

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People who live in the Helmandi slum in western Kabul – one of dozens of such communities in the city – have little to eat and many root through the city’s garbage for food. For this man, the day’s foraging had produced little more than bones and moldy bread.

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Living conditions in the slums are dire: Most houses are built from pressed mud covered with dirt and plastic, and few have doors or windows. According to the World Food Programme, two million children in Afghanistan are malnourished.

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Health care is inaccessible to most residents, including this girl who lay sick on the ground in Helmandi, where open sewage flows between houses. The family had no money for medication or doctors. Aid workers aren’t visiting the area, said one local man, and families there aren’t getting help. Canadian aid organizations say their own efforts in the country are hampered by a 2013 federal law that bans them from helping anyone who may have official dealings with what is now the Afghan government, including those paying rent or taxes.

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Tolo News presenter Tahmina Usmani prepares to go on air. Female television personalities in Afghanistan have to cover their faces in line with a Taliban order. Ms. Usmani, like many women in Kabul, uses a COVID-19 mask to cover her face.

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School-aged girls face a harsh new reality in Afghanistan: Their education now ends at Grade 6. Taliban leaders have barred them from continuing past that level. For many, that means abandoning dreams of a career and facing the prospect of marriage while still in their early teens – or even younger.

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Taliban checkpoints dot all the hills around Kabul. At this one, the men were friendly and many wanted to take pictures with Mr. Tomasevic. Some liked that his background is Serbian, and one proudly displayed an AK-47 that had been made in Serbia. When asked how they felt about the collapse of government and the end of parliament and parliamentary elections, they gave this answer: “No parliament, no corruption.”

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