On the eve of February 14, the war-torn Afghan capital of Kabul was somehow still in the mood for love. Against a backdrop of explosions and insecurity, some malls, flower shops and streets were decorated with red flowers and red balloons, and people were smiling.
The government's peace talks with the Taliban are still ongoing, and many in the country are worried they will lose the gains they have made since the fall of the Taliban. The longer they run for, the more worries and whispers about the possibility of another war arise. A great many Afghan activists and journalists have fled the country in recent months, and an opaque fate awaits the people of this land. Valentine's Day, meanwhile, seems to have given people hope. The Taliban says such celebrations are “against Islamic decency”.
Droves of male and female shoppers in Kabul expressed their love through the traditional Valentine's Day gifts, such as teddy bears, chocolates and gift packages. Maryam Moghadam, a teenage vendor, told Iranwire that she had been preparing her wares for Valentine's Day for two months: "Sales are relatively good. The closer we get to the day, the more we sell.
“Valentine's Day in this country is a day when everyone loves each other and is happy from the bottoms of their hearts. Young people are getting more and more interested in Valentine's Day every year.”
In the midst of all these balloons, dolls and flowers, however, the fear of the re-emergence of the Taliban in talks with the Afghan government has been a major issue in the daily lives of Afghans. As Maryam put it: "If the Taliban comes, it will be really difficult for young people because they’ll have to stay at home. Girls especially are very worried.”
The unrest in Afghanistan is so great that many young people do not feel safe going on dates or courting in public. From morning to night, bad news darkens their lives; Valentine's Day is an excuse for the new generation to think and love away from the darkness, but it never lasts long. “Valentine is an excuse to be happy,” a young woman called Hanieh Mokhtari told IranWire. “There are so many wars and misfortunes. This is an excuse to feel good.”
Haniyeh is also pessimistic about the ongoing peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, saying that if the Taliban regains power, she and her fellow citizens, especially women and girls, will lose their freedoms. There will, she says, be no more Valentine's Days.
Although much of Afghan society remains highly traditional, the younger generation have welcomed February 14 in recent years. The streets of the Afghan capital take on a different hue and restaurants and cafes see a huge influx in customers. A Kabul florist told Iran Wire that he had bought fresh flowers worth 150,000 afghanis ($2,000) ahead of Valentine's Day.
Despite the boom, many Afghan clerics and citizens alike – even some young people – also regard Valentine's Day as a Western import and to be discouraged. Last year, some cafes in Kabul and other Afghan provinces were closed due to opposition from religious scholars. But wandering the streets of Kabul, it is clear that plenty of other Afghans beg to differ.
From capital of Afghanistan to the border towns, even as the country goes through turbulent times and there are even rumors of war, Valentine's Day offered a valuable opportunity to draw breath and express love instead. Some young people fear that if the Taliban comes back, it will be the last such opportunity they get.
This article was written by a citizen journalist in Kabul under a pseudonym.