Mohammad Saleem, the current "Mr. Kabul", says that he wants Afghanistan to be free from the Taliban so that anybody can do what they want without living in fear.
By Sebastian Rich, NBC News
KABUL, Afghanistan — Kabul is flexing its muscles.
The Afghan capital is a muscleman's haven, with more than 200 gyms across the city and others sprouting up every day.
They are arguably a little primitive compared to the chrome-plated body temples of the U.S. and Europe. More than two decades after the end of the Soviet occupation, many of the gyms remain littered with bizarre and rusting machines from that era. Battered "gira" — a Soviet form of dumbbell resembling a cannonball with a handle — also remain common.
But the gyms are always packed with enthusiastic young men pumping iron and staring at themselves in cracked and broken mirrors with dreams of becoming the next Arnold Schwarzenegger, Afghan style.
Gyms were allowed to function in a very ad hoc fashion across Afghanistan under the hard-line Islamist Taliban.
While the gymnasiums were deemed as un-Islamic, the regime could not seem to make up their mind on the matter. Some bodybuilders were jailed for showing their skin to the public. However, others were allowed to train and compete if they were fully clothed and not tanned. It was not uncommon for Taliban fighters to make surprise visits to the gyms and beat the bodybuilders with sticks for not praying enough.
Down a dusty back street strewn with derelict cars and half-starving stray dogs is the dingy basement entrance to the Nasim Super Gold Gym.
Owner Mohammed Nasim, 35, is a former "Mr. Peshawar" who is extremely proud of his empire of muscle and iron.
Mohammed Nasim, a former "Mr. Peshawar", helps Mohammad Saleem train.
Although the equipment is a mix of very old, second-hand and home-built, the gym’s clientele is made up of young men from all walks of Kabul life. Waiters, street cleaners and wealthy businessmen sweat together.
Mohammad Saleem, the 20-year-old "Mr. Kabul", is training with Mustafa Ahmadi.
Saleem says that he wants Afghanistan to be free from the Taliban so that anybody can do what they want without living in fear.
He wants nothing more than to hold the coveted title of "Mr. Afghanistan" and to be able to compete worldwide. His heroes include Arnold Schwarzenegger and U.S. bodybuilding star Jay Cutler.
But when asked further about the Taliban, Saleem and his friend take on a look of exhausted fatalism. "Our good friend was killed [last week] in the Inter-Continental Hotel suicide blast," Mr. Kabul says.
In theory, women are now allowed to join Mr. Kabul and Mr. Peshawar in Kabul's gyms. But it would appear they choose not to.
Mustafa Amadi, 20, trains at the Nasim Super Gold Gym in the Afghan capital.