Sunday, September 07, 2008

Superficial impressions of Kabul

Whatever one can say about a city like Kabul based on a short whirlwind visit can only be impressionistic, but for what it's worth I note here some of my impressions.

> Everyone has a cell phone. For me that was a surprise, but I understand now that that is about par in most countries, especially those where the roads are poor.
> A huge amount of money is being invested in the city. Lots of road building. Many palatial houses are being built. Where does it come from? One person said at least some of it is drug money.
> As before, there appear to be no zoning rules so people seem able to put virtually anything on their private property. So there is an odd scattering of expensive investments around the city.
> The walls around virtually every house are no longer a mere 8 or 9 feet. Now most houses have added large steel panels on top of the walls adding another 12-15 or feet to the hight, and sometimes on top of those is razor wire. Obviously folks are worried about attacks on their homes.
> The taliban are, as we know, in the countryside not far out of Kabul these days. They are trying to strangle the city by interrupting traffic in and out. So far, there seems to be no shortage of anything, based merely on a cursory look at what's in the bazaar.
> Publishing industry seems to be doing well. I was treated with great courtesy by one person who owns several newspapers. He said he is free to say whatever he wants. Up to a point. If he wants he can talk about the drug industry in general, but if he begins to ask how 50% of the opium produced in the country [which is to say half of the world's opium supply] is produced in one county of one province, then that is meddling a little too close. All those officials in the area would then seem to be implicated, and he knows better than to step into that cesspool.
> There are some wonderful signs of growth and investment that will be beneficial for the whole country. The most notable of them is the massive reconstruction of Babur's garden. There is a fine museum there, in the recently constructed caravansarai at the bottom of the system of terraces that has been renovated.

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