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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

War-Torn Kabul a City of Ruins




KABUL, Afghanistan -- The lonely old lion is blind from a grenade blast. There are two mangy monkeys and a clubfoot bear. A pair of emaciated wolves pace restlessly in a squalid cement cage.


That's pretty much the Kabul Zoo.


Foul-smelling cages stand amid garbage, knee-high grass and the occasional land mine f a legacy of four years of war between Islamic factions that battled for control of Afghanistan's capital.


The zoo was smack in the middle of the front line. The main administration building is a twisted ruin, steel reinforcing bars curled beneath slabs of concrete.


Kabul is quiet these days. The rival militias whose hatred for one another destroyed much of Kabul are united now against the Taliban religious army that has taken control of most of the country, but the civil war rages mostly in the north.


For the 750,000 people still in Kabul f mostly people who were too poor to leave f the zoo is one of the last means of entertainment left to them.


Hewing to an austere version of Islam, Taliban leaders have banned almost everything else. Cinemas are closed. Television is not allowed, nor is listening to music, nor is flying kites or dancing or even talking with a woman other than a relative. There are some in the Taliban who also frown on soccer.


On average, the zoo gets about 100 visitors a day. They wander along the cracked cement walkway that meanders through the sad collection of cages, most of them empty.


"We used to have beautiful animals," said Abdullah Saeed Rahim, a scruffy, elderly man who has cleaned the cages and fed the animals for 16 years.


With a stick he prods the clubfoot bear out of his den and into the cage. There used to be three bears.


One was killed by shelling; the second initially survived a shrapnel wound but died later from an infection that couldn't be treated, Rahim said.


"We have nothing f no medicines, no doctors," he said. "We trust in God. We have nothing else."


The zoo is a metaphor for Kabul f perhaps the entire country, which has been wracked by 20 years of war.


War has ruined an economy that was already one of the world's poorest. The currency, the Afghani, fluctuates between 30,000 and 55,000 to a single dollar, and even Afghans are loathe to buy it.


Most people in the capital are unemployed. Those who do work, mostly at jobs in government agencies, earn the equivalent of barely $4 a month.


When the Taliban seized Kabul in 1996, they banned women from nearly taking job, which


was a devastating blow for more than


28,000 war widows. Just less than two-thirds of the city's residents are now dependent on international aid for survival, and women sit in the middle of roads begging for money.


With no pavement left, the Kabul Highway resembles a rock-strewn riverbed.


Children caked with mud shovel dirt into holes in hopes motorists will give them some money for smoothing the road a bit. Drivers mostly ignore them.


The Kabul orphanage across from the old Russian Embassy compound has 800 young residents, many of whom have a parent, but one who simply cannot afford to feed or house his or her child.


Younger children often sleep two to a bed for warmth under filthy blankets. Many have festering sores. The man who runs the orphanage says it may be because they go months without baths. The pipes and generator that pump water into the building are broken and there is no money to fix them.


"We are a people who have given everything and have nothing," said Hakim Haider, a pharmacist.