Published: May 11th 2010May 9th 2010
A somewhat coloured view over Kabul, reflective of my current feeling of despondency about what's going on here
Well, after holidaying in Thailand and transiting Dubai I finally landed (late in April) in that most wonderful of countries, Afghanistan.
I'm only being partially ironic. Indeed there is much to Afghanistan that could be wonderful. But the present reality is one of unmitigated tragedy. Landing on a grey, raining day in Kabul and being hustled into body armour and escorted by a team of "shooters" is not the most inspiring of welcomes. Neither is reading day after day of security briefings that report explosions and deaths. Operation Moshtarak (the latest surge in Helmand) was according to one report an unmitigated disaster in that more than 70% of the local people are MORE disaffected after the clearing for the Taliban than before - I'm on my way there now, so we'll see.
Having said that, on a sunny day, Kabul has something. At this time of year the air is clean enough (it can get very smoggy from fires in the winter and dust in the summer) and the mornings at the Heelat Hotel can be a pleasure (a report on the hotel in a another post). We breakfast, don the body armour and drive a short way to
On a good day
Actually when the sun shines it's not so bad
our office compound, heavily guarded by bearded folk with AK's (actually they are '74's not as popular fiction has it, '47s - the '74 model was an upgrade). Our own close protection teams are ex-pats from South Africa and the UK - excellent people doing a really tough job; hats off to them.
It's a strange city, and because our movements are so restricted I haven't got a sense of it yet. Over it broods a barrage balloon put up by the NATO-ISAF forces apparently with cameras that can spot individuals anywhere in the city. It is a continual reminder that whatever the PR folk say, the insurgency reaches everywhere. We travel in our armoured cars like turtles, afraid to be exposed to the deadly locals, frightened of our own shadows.
William Dalrymple just wrote a great article linking the current situation to the First Afghan War fought by the British in 1842. It resulted in a disastrous defeat at Gandamack village on the way to Jallalabad, the Khyber Pass and the safety of India as the British force tried to escape an impossible situation in Kabul. The 44th regiment of Foot made a last stand and was
The work compound in a Kabul side street. Barriers, razor wire and armed guards everywhere.
massacred, all except for Captain Souter who brought home the bad news.
Yesterday I drove past Camp Souter, an outpost for part of the British ISAF force here on the road taken by the army those many years ago. The buildings were dilapidated and a dirty Union Jack hung limply on the flagpole. We were not retreating but even less gloriously going shopping at the ISAF PX stores, where you can buy toothpaste and chocolate at extortionate prices. Somehow a shopping expedition to look at tack is more telling of the 21st efforts of the Western Powers to bring peace and what we call civilization to this intransigent bunch of folk.