Mass marriage in the presence of armed Taliban in Kabul

White dress and a giant green shawl for the women, traditional tunic for the men: Some 70 couples were married Monday in Kabul, Afghanistan, during a joint ceremony that allowed them to reunite at a reduced cost in the presence of Taliban gunmen.

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Important dowry, numerous gifts, lavish parties: a wedding in a large hall in Kabul costs between 10,000 and 20,000 dollars on average, a colossal sum in one of the poorest countries in the world.

For several years, many couples have chosen to unite without spending such sums during joint ceremonies.

This movement has grown since the Taliban came to power last August. The freezing of billions of assets abroad and the subsequent sudden halt in international aid have plunged the country into a severe financial and humanitarian crisis.

“I do not have work. We lacked money,” Esmatullah Bashardost, 22, a member of the Shia Hazara community, told AFP.

“Today no young man wants to bear the burden of an expensive marriage (…) It is difficult to cope with these costs,” says Ebadullah Niazai, who has waited eight years for his marriage.

The organizers did not want to give any information about the cost of the ceremony. Several charities provided the couples with essential household items.

All bridal couples wore a white shalwar kameez – the traditional Afghan tunic – under a sleeveless blue waistcoat, their heads covered with a small flat white hat that was split across the forehead.

The brides all wore a long white dress under a large shiny green shawl that completely covered the head and part of the body.

The husbands-and-wives-to-be remained separated throughout the ceremony, as did the hundreds of male and female guests, who were held at bay by a dozen armed Taliban fighters.

Invited to cover the ceremony, journalists were allowed to photograph and film the brides-to-be but not speak to them.

Since returning to power, the Taliban have largely barred women from public employment, restricted their right to travel, and barred girls from middle and high school.

In early May, the Taliban supreme leader also issued an edict that women must cover themselves fully, including the face, in public, ideally with the burqa, a full veil with a mesh of fabric at eye level.

Before the arrival of the Taliban, weddings in this deeply conservative nation were often occasions for festive and colorful ceremonies, complete with dancing, traditional songs and music, and some degree of mingling between men and women.

Since the return of Islamic fundamentalists, large weddings are still allowed, but music is banned.

During their first regime, between 1996 and 2001, the Taliban banned ostentatious marriages.

On Monday, guests were only treated to poetry recitations and speeches from the charities that hosted the ceremony.

A red and white wedding cake was prepared for each couple and placed in front of the male bride and groom.

Despite these austerity measures, Esmatullah Bashardost said their wedding would probably be the “happiest day” of their lives.

At the end of the ceremony, the bride and groom, each carrying a plastic plaque with their name on it, left the scene with their brides in cars decorated with flowers and ribbons.

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