Travel through the world’s developing layers is all relative. As I was leaving Abu Dhabi last night, I said to my friend that the U.A.E. will look like the West in the rearview mirror of his Lexus in comparison to Kabul where I landed today. To someone who’d never set foot outside of the West, the U.A.E. might seem strange and bewildering with its teeming migrant worker population and neon Arabic signage. Kabul, again in relative terms, will feel like Los Angeles what with it’s pizza restaurants and one or two ATMs linked to the outside world in comparison to the Afghan countryside. And when I pass back through the U.A.E. on the way home with its lack of genuine press freedom and human right, the comforts of its top-down imposed modernity will mask over its freedom deficit. The Emirate’s many ATMs, fast food courts, constant air conditioning and clean drinking water will pass for freedom but only for a day or two.
Kabul is humming before the election in twelve days. Political posters are plastered all over the city though a large number of them are defaced, literally. On the road in from the airport, my Afghan Logistics taxi was stopped at a checkpoint and an illiterate ANP cadre mistook me for being a local (a Tajik from the Shomali plain) and was insistently accusing me of being a local just coming off the flight from Mazar while the driver couldn’t keep a straight face telling this poor chap I’d just come from Dubai. He was looking at my Afghan visa from last year and it was clear he had no clue as to how to decipher it.
The (presumably) Taleban lobbed a few rockets into the city on Tuesday to put the scare into residents to say that the capital, while largely secure, remains within their reach. This will be an interesting few weeks here.