Half an hour after the executions, Kabul stadium opens for football

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FRIDAY AFTERNOON in Kabul sports stadium and the shadows are beginning to lengthen across the dusty, dried-out football pitch. A crowd of about 5,000 has been filing on to the stepped concrete stands for an hour. For as long, a series of religious leaders have been reading them lessons from the Koran. It is virtuous to attend an execution, the crowd is told.

After an hour two men are led into the centre. They are pushed to the ground by armed Taliban soldiers and stretched out on their stomachs. Their arms are tied at the elbow behind their backs.

A third is led to the penalty area where, a few yards back from the penalty spot, he is made to squat. While a clergyman mutters Koranic verses through the tannoy a surgical team amputates both hands from one of the men tied up on the grass.

As the team remove a foot from the second man, three men, two armed, walk over to the man described as the convicted murderer by the disembodied voice on the tannoy. One raises a Kalashnikov and, holding it a distance in front of him, he pulls the trigger three times. Welcome to Kabul, a city where for a million people the extraordinary is routine.

At a casual glance Kabul is full of broad, tree-lined roads, with little traffic, lots of bicycles and clear, dry August sunshine. The bazaars are bustling, the streets relatively clean and the beggars are no worse than in Calcutta or Karachi.

But it is a city where violence and discrimination are institutionalised, where the economy scarcely exists, where much of the population cannot even afford bread, but where people accept one of the world's most oppressive regimes as better than any available alternative.

They have little choice. Three quarters of Afghanistan is now in Taliban hands and the opposition forces are in no position to launch a counter- attack.

Traditionally, the best informed men in Kabul are the money changers. Constantly sifting rumours to judge when to sell and when to buy, they have long experience of the ups and downs of the civil war that has racked their country since the Soviet withdrawal in 1989.

Since Mazar-e-Sharif, the key northern city, fell to the Taliban last week, the "southern" Afghani, the currency in Taliban-held area, is as strong as it has ever been. "If they keep advancing, it will just get stronger," said Amanullah, 28, a money changer. "It is very good because it means prices are coming down."

Prices may come down but that will do little to help the vast bulk of Kabul residents struggling to survive.

There are few jobs and all employment, apart from work for aid organisations, is miserably paid. A senior government official gets 200,000 Afghanis (about pounds 4) each month - if he is paid at all.

As one flat Afghan loaf costs 200,000 Afghanis, it is clear that even those with jobs find it hard to feed themselves. Many cannot afford bread and live on rice and vegetables.

"I have a wife and family and all we had for dinner last night was sweet tea," said one Kabul resident who did not want to be named.

Many people live in ruined buildings that are still mined. About a third of the city is without proper sanitation and two thirds is without electricity. Everywhere one can see the Taliban edicts, enforced with the lashings that govern every facet of daily life. Curfew is at 9pm. Beards must be a fist wide, women must wear the tent-like Burqa when travelling outside the home, which they may only do with male relatives.

But the Taliban are still welcomed.

Almost everyone agrees that the security the Islamic militia has brought has made life in Kabul bearable again. After the execution yesterday the blood was mopped up. Within half an hour, 22 men from local teams were warming up for the five o'clock football match.

"Peace is more important than your belly", said Ghulam Sayeed, a shopkeeper. "We have been through a lot and we would put up with anything rather than go back to the rockets and the fighting."

It is unlikely they will have to. Despite a lack of manpower, the Taliban made further advances yesterday into the mountainous strongholds still held by the opposition.

The pressure on the shattered northern alliance is intense. Ahmed Sha Masood, the veteran commander who holds the Panjshir valley, is still trying to stem the Taliban advance from the north. But several of his supply lines have been cut and he is in danger of being caught by a pincer movement when Taliban troops in the south around Kabul start an expected offensive.

At the front line, 15 miles north of Kabul yesterday, the Taliban troops' morale was high. Mulla Abbur Sattar, who commands 2,000 Taliban soldiers, said the Jihad (holy war) was now over. "We don't want to kill any more of them. There is no need. We have opened negotiations and asked them to surrender because we know that they have no wish to carry on fighting a lost cause."

A single incoming shell kicked up a cloud of dust a few hundred yards from his command post.

"It is a quiet day today," he said. "Soon every day will be quiet."