Business for the carpet, antique and souvenir traders on Kabul’s famous Chicken Street has completely dried up since the vast majority of foreigners left the Afghan capital when the Taliban seized power last month.
The once bustling hotspot, where aid workers and adventurous tourists shop for vintage tribal rugs, pottery, and metalware, is nearly empty of visitors looking for a bargain.
“Business has changed dramatically because we don’t have a lot of foreigners going here and there in Kabul,” carpet seller Abdul Wahab said outside his empty showroom.
“So it affected our business, like the rugs, jewelry and tribal items from Afghanistan.”
Wahab said most of his clients were expatriates, such as NGO workers and diplomats, but nearly all were evacuated in late August, after the Taliban took power in the previous weeks.
Chicken Street was very popular in the 1960s and 1970s among visitors to Kabul’s “hippie trail”.
Tourism fell after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, but the streets rebounded after US forces overthrew the Taliban in 2001.
Wahab said that despite the recent lack of customs, he remained “very optimistic” that trade would resume in the coming months.
“Our business is all about safety. If security is good, foreigners will come and then buy rugs or other textiles available in Afghanistan.
Another merchant, Qadir Raouf, 64, owner of a family-owned carpet store across the street, agreed.
“For the future, when there is peace, we can do good business,” he said.
“There are no strangers coming. I hope the situation will be calm and people will come and resume their activities. “
Originally from Herat in western Afghanistan, Raouf has had his carpet store in Kabul for over 45 years, sourcing old and new rugs from across the country.
“This is our national business,” he said of his rugs. “We show them to the whole world: Afghans can make rugs. “
Haji Jalil has been selling porcelain objects, some of which are up to 300 years old, for almost 30 years.
“Our business has not been good over the past two years,” he said in his Chicken Street store, attributing the COVID-19 crisis to the onset of the recession.
“This street is entirely dependent on the economy. If people’s financial situation is good, they come to buy decorative items such as rugs, crafts, precious and semi-precious stones.
“Now, all over Afghanistan, businesses 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 can be good outside of Afghanistan and foreigners can come and buy our products.
“But I want to do my business in Afghanistan and I don’t think I will do it elsewhere. “
Further down Chicken Street, men were selling fresh pomegranate juice, bananas and watermelons in carts as a small group of Taliban fighters watched.
Haji Niyaz appeared to be doing a good lunchtime trade at his bakery, although the 40-something bread maker said his business was also at risk.
“The economy is weak,” he said, and the prices of flour and gas had risen.
“We used to bake 4,000 loaves of bread a day, but now we can barely bake 2,000. I don’t think we can go on.
“If current conditions persist for another 10 days, things will be over in Afghanistan. “