Pul-e-Surkh, an area in the PD3 of Kabul, was famous for having so many bookstores, modern cafes and cultural associations. Now, with the new developments in Afghanistan, this district is gradually losing its cultural significance. Some bookstores, publications and cafes have closed down and others do not have as lucrative routines as in the past.
As in the past, there are no signs of cultural activists in the streets and cafes of the Pul-e-Surkh. The Taliban have set up a checkpoint near the crossroads these days. Pul-e-Surkh was known as a comfortable place where people always felt at ease.
Milli Market, a very prominent book center in Kabul, is located west of the crossroads.
It is 3:20 pm on Monday, September 27.
No living being is visible in front of the market, except an old man who helps pickup drivers to park or pick up passengers.
I enter the Milli market. This district was one of the most plausible places in Kabul before the rise of the Taliban. Some bookstores are open without visitors and/or customers. However, other bookstores are closed. Nasir Maqsoodi, who runs Maqsoodi Book publication, says eight publications from the Ketabistan Association have closed their shops in the past 40 days.
“The association had about 15 members, including book publications and bookstores,” he said. “Five publications and three bookstores have collected all their belongings and evacuated their offices and shops.”
According to Maqsoodi, they evacuated the shops to escape uncertainty and rent costs.
With the rise of the Taliban, book publishing and bookstores were in dire straits. The director of Maqsoodi Publishing Center says that schools and universities have started working, but people are no longer buying books. “It makes us believe that education centers are still closed.”
Private universities reopened about three weeks ago. Institutions were required to separate male and female classes, stressing that if not possible for some institutions, they should draw a curtain between girls and boys.
In contrary to the private institutions, public universities are still closed. The Taliban ministry of higher education, says it will take time to prepare for the separation of students. The ministry is likely to apply the same instruction as they did for the private universities.
Schools also reopened. Female pupils above the sixth grade have not been allowed to attend yet. The Taliban says that until a further instruction, female pupils of the secondary schools cannot attend.
Maqsoodi publication was established 20 years ago. Since then, it has published around 164 books. Nasir Maqsoodi, says students were his most significant customers. “Now that their economic and psychological condition isn’t desirable, they don’t buy books.”
“We hoped our business would thrive after the Covid-19 restrictions,” he said. “But new developments have left us in limbo. Although, we run a non-profit organization, we also have to do something for our living expenses. ”
Maqsoodi has recently published M. Amin Ahmadi’s book entitled “Afghanistan’s Reconciliation: A Struggle between the Republic and the Emirate.” Maqsoodi says that there are at least 15 other books ready for publishing, but he couldn’t manage enough money to publish those books. He hopes for a stable situation in the future in order for the new books to get published.
During an hour of interviewing in Milli Market, I saw only one customer. Omid has bought four books. He was looking for a book called “The Rise and Fall of the Taliban”. He says he is interested in reading books. “People do not like reading, the situation is not good at all, few people understand the importance of reading,” Omid said, saddened by the closure of some bookstores.
Maqsoodi Publication was founded in 2002 with hopes to contribute to the country’s future. However, Maqsoodi cannot last more than six months.
“I can continue my work for the next six months,” said Nasir Maqsoodi. “It’s just because I really like my job. Bookstores are the only thing that makes people believe that Kabul is still a city and I do not want to give up so quickly. I am even willing to sell my household items to pay the rent.”
Aqra Bookstore has recently put its books up for auction. The center, one of the largest book centers in Kabul, said it was selling all its books at half price. Maqsoodi says that the book auction is a sign of humiliation and misery of a nation. “Unfortunately, publishers live in a vulnerable environment,” he added.
If the situation persists, six months later a prominent book publication will close. Maqsoodi says he opens his shop and allows people to take any book they want with them.