A poor family, hoping for a few coins, tries to sell what little it has left: chipped cups and saucers, an ornate vase and broken kitchen appliances little better than the row of derelict refrigerators others have dumped nearby.

No one gives their meager wares a second glance. Everyone is selling something in Afghanistan's battered capital. But no one is buying.Outside a carpet shop - really an old railroad freight car - bearded men sit sipping sweet green tea and puffing lazily on their cigarettes. They seem to be there out of habit rather than in any real hope of a customer turning up.

Since 1996, Kabul has been in the hands of the Taliban religious army, which controls roughly 90 percent of the country.

The only shoppers on Kabul's dust-clogged streets are women, dressed in the all-enveloping burqas, who sail past the ramshackle shops. Occasionally, the women pause for a heartbeat or two, and only then to buy food.

Cars are scarce. Most people ride bicycles.

People seem confused that their old friend, the United States, which aided Afghan rebels who ousted a Soviet-backed government, would fire missiles at their country. They seem unaware that the Aug. 20 strike was actually aimed at suspected terrorist training camps about 90 miles southeast of Kabul, funded by Saudi billionaire dissident Osama bin Laden.

"We need help and instead the Americans fire missiles at us," says Ismatullah.

The stench from an open sewer wafts inside the decrepit drugstore where Ismatullah is passing time with his friend, Saeed Zabiullah. Zabiullah hasn't gotten around to cleaning up after the opposition force's last rocket strike, which smashed his counter and sprayed bits of glass over the few medicines on display.

Business is bad, says Zabiullah. But he refuses to blame the hard-line Taliban, and he says both good and bad have come of the Taliban's rule of Kabul.

The Taliban's strict religious rule has been relatively peaceful, putting an end to four years of rocket attacks by rival Islamic groups that left the city in ruins and killed 50,000 people.

Corruption and crime, once widespread, have all but disappeared because of the Taliban's severe Islamic punishments. Theft, for example, is punished by chopping off a culprit's limb.

The bad has been the Taliban's seemingly endless Islamic edicts, such as a ban on women working and the closure of all girls' schools, he says.

The Taliban's protocol officer, Abdul Sattar Paktis, says the international community has never given the country's religious rulers a chance.

"No one gives us credit for the good that we have done. We only get criticism," Paktis says. "After 20 years of war, we have to be strict in our rules and our punishments to bring order."