Tuesday, 7 October 2014
October 2014 - Another trip begins...
It is a year since I was in Afghanistan. Karzai is gone. The new President, Ashraf Ghani, has just been inaugurated in a power-sharing deal with Abdullah Abdullah. The election dragged on from April to September, causing further instability when it was least needed. The Taliban has been more active and the casualties amongst police, National Army and civilians have been high. The new leaders are experienced and capable and hopefully they can share power in a way which does not hinder progress but brings solutions to a people who deserve the chance of a decent and peaceful future. It has been a roller coaster few months but now these leaders are in power, one hopes that a period of stability may follow. The International Community has already welcomed these events and Cameron has been here to pledge his support.
Landing in Kabul is symbolic of the changes which have taken place. A far cry from the days when we came in over the Khyber Pass and then on Ariana's old Russian planes, with their rusty doors opening at the rear. Then we would land on a runway littered with the debris of war and, on take-off one could see the de-mining taking place around the periphery of the runway. We would walk into a crowded arrivals hall with cables hanging like great webs from the broken ceiling and a luggage belt which refused to work, but acted as a gang plank from which to jump through a hole in the wall and retrieve our bags.
Now the planes are fancy and reassuring, the luggage belts whir and the queues are relatively calm. The potholed road from the airport is a tarmac dual carriage way and the ruined buildings of Nineties Kabul are largely replaced by new ones. Some gleaming poppy palaces, built with drugs money and dollars leaked in vast quantities by an international community trying to buy a quick fix solution to Afghanistan, rear their ugly corpses above the modest Kabul homes. Barbed wire and concrete rings of protection play havoc with life and traffic - armed men are everywhere, an empty reassurance in an anxious city.
But I love it arriving back here. The familiar face of the driver such a welcome sight after hours and hours of journey and Gul Noor, who I first met back in 2001, standing on the steps of the guesthouse holding out a hand in welcome and beaming. The usual long greetings and enquiries about health and family ensue and then delicious food and a haven in which to stay.