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The Taliban says it hopes to sign a deal with the U.S. by the end of the month, one that would pave the way for U.S. troops to leave Afghanistan. Such an agreement could also kickstart talks between the Taliban and Afghan leaders over the country's future. NPR's Diaa Hadid spoke with people in Kabul who worry they could lose some of the freedoms they've gained in recent years.
DIAA HADID, BYLINE: It's a quiet day at this beauty salon off a Kabul street. The stylist says she's run this place since the Americans invaded Afghanistan 18 years ago, and she's worried if this deal goes ahead, that will pave the Taliban's way back to power and Kabul will go to how it was in the '90s under the Taliban rule. Producer Khawaga Ghani translates.
UNIDENTIFIED STYLIST: (Through interpreter) I think about the days that they were here before, and the woman could not go out alone. They had to be with their husband. Without their husband, they couldn't go out to buy something for themselves.
HADID: The stylist's granddaughter sits in a corner, painting her nails with sparkly polish. She should be outside playing, but it's not safe. The stylist says she craves peace, but if the Taliban put down their weapons and become part of the political process, she says women will be forced back into their homes.
UNIDENTIFIED STYLIST: (Through interpreter) If Taliban will come, we won't be able to be working like this anymore. They won't let us be a part of this society.
HADID: The stylist is dressed for business. Her face is covered in foundation and blush. Her lips are drawn on. Her eyebrows are thickened. It's a way of advertising her makeover credentials for customers. She says already, men harass her.
UNIDENTIFIED STYLIST: (Through interpreter) They find our numbers, and they try to threaten us by messages and phone calls.
HADID: She asks that we not use her name because she's worried about those threats. She says if the Taliban come to power, it will get worse. We leave the salon and head to a hole-in-the-wall diner.
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HADID: There we meet Saeed Omar. He's a 22-year-old law student. There's snow outside, and he's warming himself with a plate of mantu, Afghan steamed dumplings. Omar says he used to hope negotiations would lead to peace. Now he doesn't think the Taliban will ever give up violence.
SAEED OMAR: (Through interpreter) They're on the table of peace. They're sitting and talking about peace. But then what do they do? They do blasts. They kill people.
HADID: The most recent bombing in Kabul was last week. Five people were killed. The Taliban didn't claim responsibility, but many people believe their fighters were behind it. A civil servant, 27-year-old Mehdi Lesoni, is about to walk out of the diner. He's Hazara, a Shia minority that's been targeted by the Taliban in the past. He says the Taliban claim they've modernized and changed, but he doesn't believe it.
MEHDI LESONI: It's hard for most of the people of Afghanistan to accept them, to believe them - how they treat the woman, how they treat the other religious men. It's a big problem. Afghanistan is not belongs to Taliban.
HADID: Lesoni says America has given up the fight.
LESONI: Yes, they give up. They cannot continue this war.
HADID: So you think the Americans are just walking away.
LESONI: Yes, yes. They are walking away.
HADID: And he fears they'll hand the country back to the insurgents. Diaa Hadid, NPR News, Kabul.
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