Go up close to what’s happening in Afghanistan – for example, in the city of Kandahar – and you find crime, corruption, tribal conflict and ordinary people powerless to resist the armed might of the militias. No happy ending isin sight
Kandahar, Afghanistan. We visited the snooker club at the Kandahar Coffee Shop. It didn’t sell coffee. And I can’t play snooker. So we ordered burgers and filmed street life from the terrace: the traffic went around the roundabout and a manic flock of doves circled a hundred feet above. US soldiers drove by in huge armoured trucks, policemen stopped white Toyota Corollas and searched their trunks for bombs, and gunmen of every species drove around in their SUVs and pickup trucks.
Round the corner was our hotel. Half of it was destroyed earlier this year when a man walked past, pushing a bomb on a cart. He was heading for another target but when challenged by police, he and his cart – and the side of the hotel – were blown up. The bomb was detonated by the policemen’s shots. The hotel owner is busy rebuilding. He’s expecting an influx of journalists and trade when Nato conducts what until lately was called the “summer offensive” or even “the battle for Kandahar” but now, causing confusion, is just a “complex military-political effort”.
Everyone is still playing up the game in line with a recent ABC News headline, “Campaign for Kandahar May Be America’s Last Chance to Win Over Afghans”. On a visit to Kandahar, Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, described the city as “as critical in Afghanistan as Baghdad was in Iraq in the surge”.
Sadly for the US, almost everyone supports the Taliban rebels. Even Nato commanders. A senior officer said: “If I was a young man, I’d be fighting with the Taliban.” In this heartland of the Pashtun people, the idea of being a stooge to foreigners or an unpopular Kabul government hardly appeals to the young unless there’s serious money involved. They ask themselves if they want to take the money and work with foreigners, or fight and risk a courageous death. Most people loathe those who work with the government.
I met a professional man in his 50s, a generation that dominates the administration (they were in their 20s when the Russians were here). He has a long flowing beard. “That’s because he’s a communist,” said my Afghan companion. “The people that ISAF appoint, most of them are communists.” (ISAF is the International Security Assistance Force, the Nato mission in Afghanistan.) “They support Lenin and Marx?” “No, not at all, but they were the ones that collaborated with the Russians. We call them the communists.”
“They’re still in power?” “Yes, they like working with foreigners. They’re all communists. Many of them got educated in Russian too. We all despise them.”
“And the beard?” “Oh they do like their beards. They’re trying to cover up their past.”