I’ve just returned to Kabul after a month out of the country. In a place where it sometimes feels like nothing changes, a lot has changed.
First, a few oddities. An Afghan businessman on my street apparently bought a lion cub and has been keeping it on his roof. I’m not sure if that has anything to do with the fact that I have yet to see any of the ubiquitous, dust-caked street dogs in the neighborhood since I returned, but I don’t miss them.
Also, the average daytime temperature is 15 to 20 degrees higher that it was a month ago, which unfortunately brings out the pungent aroma from the open sewer trenches that line Kabul’s streets.
The currency, the Afghani, has continued its downward slide in value, and the Internet here certainly hasn’t gotten any faster.
A lot of foreigners left while I was away – journalists, aid workers, diplomats. While some will be replaced, some won’t - at least not on a permanent basis - as organizations continue to downsize here as does the U.S. military forces, which will end its combat mission next year.
One of the most positive changes is that our street is finally paved. When I left in May, it was getting close, but every time it was close before, the workers would dig cavernous new trenches to repair water lines or sewer leaks. It seemed a Sisyphean process.
A Surge Of Construction
It seems construction in general has been hopping for the last month. On the drive in from the airport, I saw a number of buildings that were either much taller than when I left, or seemingly complete.
Here, construction projects are often cloaked with a green mesh - kind of a nylon burlap that looks tacky at best. Once buildings reach a certain phase of construction, the shroud comes down, and suddenly there is a shining new building.
And, that’s the case a block from our house. At one end of the street is a gleaming new office building. At the other end, what had been a derelict looking wall has been torn down, and now there is a giant new wedding hall that was in full swing last night.
In a city where most buildings are old and drab, wedding halls are some of the most modern and flashy looking buildings in Kabul.
And, across the city, derelict buildings are coming down and new ones are rising from the ashes. It’s really a shocking amount of change in a month.
Really, it’s a continuum of change that I can see since my first visit to the city in 2009. There are countless new office and apartment buildings, more shops, more houses climbing up the craggy peaks across the city, and there are vastly more people. There was barely any traffic on the rough roads back in 2009, and not nearly the crush of vendors and pedestrians along the streets.
On one level, it seems like a healthy sign of growth, but as I reported last summer, it’s also a case of a city growing much faster than the infrastructure and services.
Not everything was positive during my absence. The Taliban has carried out three high-profile attacks in the past month. In one, a suicide bomber detonated his vehicle outside the Supreme Court and killed 17 civilians.
In a pre-dawn raid, militants attacked the military section of Kabul Airport, and shut down the facility for several hours.
And, just a few days ago, militants managed to get inside the first layer of security around the presidential palace and kill three guards in the attack.
Our driver says that everyone he’s talked to in the last month thinks things are getting worse. They are increasingly concerned about security as international forces draw down, and they’d happily trade paved roads for better security.
Though, for the last year I’ve been living in Kabul, just about everyone you talk to feels that the city is becoming less safe. So, every time you hear something rumble outside, you hope it’s a backhoe and not a bomb.