After a day of explosions and gunfire, residents of Kabul woke up on Saturday morning to be greeted by a public art project in which volunteers handed out 10,000 neon-pink “peace” balloons.
Organized by Yazmany Arboleda, a 31-year-old conceptual artist from the United States, the project was an unusual attempt to bring a dose of creativity and fun to the Afghan capital, which has been wrecked by decades of war.
The timing of the event, which had been kept secret, came just hours after Taliban militants had launched a major suicide and gun attack on a compound of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in central Kabul.
One police officer was killed and five gunmen were shot dead in several hours of violence as security forces hunted down the attackers, with bursts of gunfire and grenade blasts heard across the city late into the evening.
“I did think of calling it off last night but all the volunteers insisted it continued,” Arboleda said. “I could hear explosions from my house but everyone was just ignoring them and doing the last-minute preparations unaffected.”
“They said that this is what happens in their city, and they have to get on with their lives. How people have embraced this shows how much creativity, positivity and love there is here despite everything.”
On Saturday morning -- the start of the Afghan working week -- more than 100 young Kabul artists and students distributed the bright pink balloons to workers, shoppers and families living in the dusty capital.
At distribution points in the city centre beginning at 07:00 am, adults were given one balloon each and encouraged to keep them until the end of the day.
“The balloons are not worth any money but they are distributed in the cause of peace so we admire this initiative,” said Waheedullah Nizami, a soldier who received a balloon.
But Haji Mohammad Khan, 62, selling bananas on the street, dismissed the idea, saying: “What’s the benefit of this? It is not going to help bring peace here.”
Arboleda, who is based in New York, has arranged similar balloon projects in Nairobi in Kenya, Bangalore in India and Yamaguchi in Japan.
Called “We Believe In Balloons”, the event was paid for by individuals and groups around the world sponsoring each balloon for $1.
“I tell people that this balloon is to bring a smile to your face,” said Nargis Azaryoon, one of the volunteers. “I want to see my people happy.”
The continuing threat in Kabul was underlined when a suicide bomber killed himself in the south of the city on Saturday morning when he was preparing explosives, police said.