Kabul's carpet and antique dealers struggle after foreigners flee

·3-min read

Traders of carpets, antiques and souvenirs on Kabul's famed Chicken Street said Sunday business has completely dried up since the vast majority of foreigners left the Afghan capital as the Taliban took over.

The once-bustling hotspot, where aid workers and adventurous tourists would shop for vintage tribal rugs, pottery and metalware, is almost empty of visitors looking for a bargain.

"Business has drastically changed because we don't have a lot of foreigners going here and there in Kabul," carpet seller Abdul Wahab told AFP outside his empty showroom.

"So that has affected our business, like carpets, jewellery and the tribal things of Afghanistan."

Wahab said most of his customers had been expats, such as NGO staff and diplomats, but almost all of them evacuated by the end of August, after the Taliban stormed to power in the weeks before.

Vintage rugs can fetch thousands of dollars, which means only foreigners and the richest of Afghans are Wahab's target market.

Asked how many rugs he now sells per week, the dealer said: "Now, it's none."

- 'Hippie trail' fame -

Chicken Street was hugely popular in the 1960s and '70s among Kabul's "hippie trail" visitors, who stayed in nearby guesthouses and shopped for clothes and hashish.

Tourism plummeted during and after the Soviet-Afghan war that started in 1979, but the street experienced a rebound after the US invasion in 2001.

Wahab said that, despite the recent lack of custom, he remained "very optimistic" that trade would pick up in the coming months.

"Our business only depends on security. If the security is good, foreigners will come, and then they will buy carpets or other textiles that are available in Afghanistan."

Another dealer, 64-year-old Qadir Raouf -- who owns a family carpet shop across the street -- agreed.

"For the future, when there is peace, we can do good business," he said.

"There are no foreigners to come. I hope the situation will be quiet and people are coming, starting business again."

Originally from Herat in western Afghanistan, Raouf has had his carpet shop in Kabul for more than 45 years, sourcing old and new rugs from all over the country.

"These are our national things," he said of his carpets. "We show them to all the world: Afghan people can make carpets."

- 'I want to serve' -

Haji Jalil has been selling porcelain artefacts -- some of them up to 300 years old -- for almost 30 years.

"Our business has not been good for the last two years," he said in his Chicken Street shop, blaming the Covid-19 crisis for the start of the downturn.

"This street is fully dependent on the economy," he told AFP. "If people's financial situations are good, they come and buy the decorative goods such as carpets, handicrafts, precious and semi-precious stones.

"Now businesses all over Afghanistan are not doing well."

However, the 65-year-old said he had no plans to leave.

"I want to serve the people of my country," he said. "Our business may be good outside Afghanistan and foreigners may come and buy our products.

"But I want to do my business in Afghanistan and do not think of doing it elsewhere."

Further down Chicken Street, men sold fresh pomegranate juice, bananas and watermelons from carts as a small group of Taliban fighters watched on.

Haji Niyaz appeared to be doing a good lunchtime trade at his bakery, although the breadmaker in his 40s told AFP his business was under threat too.

"The economy is weak," he said, and the prices of flour and gas had gone up.

"We used to bake 4,000 loaves of bread every day, but now we can barely bake 2,000. I don't think we can continue.

"If the current condition continues for 10 more days, things will be over in Afghanistan."

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