Tuesday, June 20, 2006

My Man in Kabul

One of the biggest pieces of news from the wedding I went to a while back was that one of my good friends was moving to Afghanistan for several months to work for some manner of venture capital outfit. Essentially his work is to facilitate foregin investment into repairing and growing the Afghani economy and infrastructure (I don't have more details both because he understandably couldn't give them, and I wouldn't have really understanded anyway.) In any event, he has been over there for almost a month, and I thought I'd pass along his American's eye view of things in (Allied controlled) Afghanistan. All emphasis mine.
Things continue to go well here. It has been an incredibly interesting couple of weeks both at work and in getting more opportunities to get out and see the city. The most interesting day so far was when we drove out South of the city to visit the old palace. This area was where some of the most intense fighting took place between the mujahideen after the Soviets left. While there has been and incredible amount of construction and revitalization in the main parts of Kabul, most of the area around the palace is essentially the same as it was left after all of the violence. Any of the buildings that are still standing are littered with thousands of bullet holes and crumbling from where rockets and grenades hit. It is pretty unbelievable to be in an area where not even five years ago thousands of people were fighting and dying.

In general it is hard to fully comprehend everything that is going on at the same time here. On the one hand there are new office buildings and hotels, there are a bunch of good restaurants with all different types of food, hundreds of trees have been planted, and things in Kabul are totally normal for any large, crowded, developing country. On the other hand it there is a at least one person with a kalashnikov on every block, and if you drive 15 minutes outside of the city in one direction you drive into shelled out buildings and in the other direction you drive past army bases fortified with bunkers, barbed wire, and unbelievable amounts of firepower. Most bizarre of all is that fact that about 3 hours away the largest counter-insurgency battle since 2001 is taking place, with more missions flown in the past 3 months than in Iraq last year. Sitting in Kabul there is absolutely no way of telling that it is happening. Talking to some of the locals who work in our office, they say that most people don’t even really know that it is taking place.

As a side note, the guys in our office are amazed that the US / NATO forces are going into the areas they are going into, saying that essentially no one, including the Russians and the Taliban, has controlled that area for the past 30 or 40 years. I thought our office manager had a nice summary of the feelings of the average Afghan when he said most people view the US/NATO as an occupying force, but after 30 years of violence no one really cares. What they want most is for one group to take control and bring some stability and economic development to the country. . .

In general day-to-day life is really quite normal. Work is interesting, I have cable and internet (sometimes) in my guest house, and we end up going out for lots of dinners and events. The weather is gorgeous 80s/90s during the days, kind chilly in the evening. The only downside is that is in incredibly dry, and in the afternoons the wind tends to pick up and you can get some pretty strong dust storms. But we are able to have lunch on the roof most days and enjoy the views from one of the taller buildings in Kabul. All in all it has been a really good summer so far. Will keep you all updated.
We actually had a long talk at the wedding reception about the process of reconstructing an economy and the various interests which needed to be balanced. Hopefully, if he and his colleagues do their jobs well, they'll go a way to remedying a major cause of extremism - the abject poverty in undeveloped regions.

Best wishes to him. Stay safe buddy.


Frankie said...

Didja read The Kiterunner yet?

It's a gutwrenching take on life in Kabul. Almost as gutwrenching as when you don't email me back. Almost.

Mr Furious said...

I'm having a hard time coming up with what it would take to make it worth moving to Afganistan for...