An old movie theater in Lashkar Gah, shuttered by years of Afghanistan wars and hard-line Islamic rule, will soon reopen to host poetry readings and movies again. A sign of the post-Taliban times?
Lashkar Gah, Afghanistan
Yet here in the provincial capital of Helmand Province, where NATO forces just waged its biggest offensives against the Taliban in nine years, one structure near the town’s center stands as a testament to more normal times. Locals are reopening the Lashkar Gah Cinema Hall, the only movie theater in all of southern Afghanistan. For years it sat damaged by numerous wars and shuttered by Islamic extremism. Its resurrection is hoped to bring a rebirth of artistic expression in this restive corner of the country.
“In a place like Helmand, which is only known for fighting, we need these sorts of things,” says Nasima Niazi, a provincial lawmaker. “It gives a little hope to Helmandi people that there’s more to life than just war.”
Movies had been banned by the mujahedeen, hard-line Islamic guerrillas who fought the Soviets throughout the 1980s, and by the Taliban who took over afterward.
Both groups saw films as indecent, especially when they portrayed women on screen – a major offense to their conservative mores.
Even after the Taliban’s fall in 2001, film has been slow to revive. Deep-seated conservatism continues to pervade much of the south, and many of the former mujahedeen have returned to power.
The theater’s main hall nowadays is piled with dust-caked, mangled chairs, and homeless men have made the corridors their home. But the Helmand government is renovating the theater and converting part of it into a cultural center that will house plays and musical performances. The British Provincial Reconstruction Team, a section of the military forces here that help with development, provided much of the funding. The theater is set to reopen next month.