KABUL: Afghanistan's capital has a bold new landmark that puts it at the center of the world - or rather the world at the center of Kabul. Municipal authorities have unveiled a giant hand-painted globe of planet Earth in Dahan-e-bagh square - complete with an oversized Afghanistan - and the eye-catching structure is already turning heads. "It's something creative," a local resident who gave his name only as Hafiz told AFP. "Before it was just a useless square... this map shows that we are also present on the globe."

The sphere, with a diameter of around eight meters, sits atop a mechanism that will rotate five times a minute - somewhat faster than the notorious Kabul traffic that will circumnavigate it. Passers-by can be forgiven for thinking that the Afghanistan on the globe is somewhat bigger than official maps suggest - taking up space usually allocated to neighbors Pakistan and Iran.

But the chief engineer and artist involved in the construction - clearly used to the jokes already circulating about the size difference - said it was merely to give the country "prominence". "We have zoomed in on it so the people could recognize their country," said chief engineer Esmatullah Habibi. "We hope that the world will also recognize it."

Artist Abid Wardak said it took him four days to paint the globe - working entirely by hand while perched on a rickety bamboo ladder. "I got help from a map, although it was in English," he said. Afghanistan is painted to resemble the Taleban flag, inscribed with the Islamic declaration of faith, and not everyone is enamored with the symbolism.

"When I saw the map of Afghanistan on the sphere I became depressed," said a woman who asked to be identified only as Elaha. Women are increasingly being squeezed out of public life since the Taliban's return last year despite the hardline Islamists promising a softer version of the harsh rule that characterised their first stint in power that ended in 2001.

Most female government workers have lost their jobs - or are being paid a pittance to stay at home - while women are also barred from travelling without a male relative, and must cover up with a burqa or hijab when out of the home. "My presence in society has been restricted, my liberties have been taken... I miss the past," Elaha said. - AFP