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© Stephan Gladieu

Afghanistan : Journey to the heart of barbarism

Behind the barrier of prohibitions that hinders a whole people, how does one live in Kabul, under the yoke of the Taliban? The special correspondents of L'Express tell us, through text and images. Investigation in the country where happiness is outlawed.

Show nothing, see nothing, hear nothing... In Taliban Afghanistan, journalists operate like thieves. The regime forbids any representation of living beings. So, the photographer of L'Express Stephan Gladieu, whose images accompany this article, has often worked in hiding, hiding his camera under a jacket, and without always aiming through the lens. His images represent anonymous people who, as such, risk nothing. Stolen" photos, as they say. But part of this text is just as much.

A journalistic reportage supposes the search for information. But this search, there, leads to violate the law. A circular from the Ministry of Information, given to foreign correspondents, lists the basic rules. It is forbidden to visit Afghans in their homes. It is forbidden to talk to women. No taking pictures of people or animals. Not allowed to walk alone - must be accompanied by an official Ministry of Information interpreter You must use the vehicles provided by the government. You must stay in the only hotel open to foreigners. As in a Kafka-inspired nightmare, journalists are reminded of this absolute imperative: it is mandatory to "tell the truth". The truth, then, is this: the light in Kabul has a crystalline quality. Is it the 2,000 meters of altitude? Or the sentinel of ochre mountains that surround the Afghan capital? Or simply a false impression of the visitor, relieved to find a city long synonymous with war at peace? The air seems lighter than elsewhere. Especially when the afternoon comes to an end and the clouds, then the sky, are painted with pink. Shadows stretch out on the sidewalks, pierced by trenches dug during the war, which nobody thinks of filling. Sand and glass shards crunch under the sandals of passers-by. In a vacant lot, children play around the carcass of a Soviet helicopter. From time to time, a gust of wind raises the dust, which swirls around and gets everywhere - under the eyelids, between the teeth, in the hair, at the bottom of the shoes.

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