MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan — The unassuming white leather high-top sneakers with green-and-yellow trim are a best seller for a roughly half-dozen shoe vendors in a sprawling bazaar in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif.
But they are not in demand because they’re the latest fashion trend. For many Afghans, the sneakers evoke only one emotion: fear.
That’s because they’re beloved by Taliban fighters as a status symbol even as they have become a gruesome marker of an unending war, the sneakers’ white silhouette often cutting across Afghanistan’s battlefields of dirt, sand and blood.
Called Cheetahs, the sneakers are produced by Servis Shoes, one of the largest shoe companies in Pakistan. They are marketed toward athletes, once endorsed by sports stars, and are the company’s best-selling model.
In Afghanistan they’ve been worn by rifle-wielding insurgents for decades — from the Soviet-Afghan war in the 1980s to the U.S.-led war that began in 2001. They are burned into the memories of many, along with the wanton death and destruction the country has endured since the Soviet Union invaded the country in 1979.
The sneakers have become synonymous with violence, and especially so on the feet of the Taliban.
At the market in Mazar-i-Sharif, the vendors’ stands are all neatly arranged — a commerce hub replete with kebab stands, home improvement and pharmaceutical goods, children’s toys and everyday clothing.
The popularity of the high-tops — which come in instantly recognizable white-and-blue boxes — is something rarely acknowledged aloud. But they are often inconspicuously displayed among the pairs of walking and running shoes, boots and sandals, a single sneaker sitting at the front of
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