Reporter's Notebook: Afghanistan Is Growing

Kabul’s economy is booming.

It doesn’t make the headlines, but the capital of Afghanistan is being transformed from a city shattered by war to a thriving metropolis with a population of 2.5 million and growing.

The catalyst for this boom is the aid money for reconstruction pouring into the country.

But as you travel around the city, it’s obvious to see that many people here are also part of the economic upturn by setting up businesses to try to grab a share of the new prosperity.

For instance, when I last visited two years ago, many of the roads here were a little more than potholed tracks.

Now, most of them have been fixed.

Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai is aiming to make those roads stretch to other countries to help boost trade.

In a recent speech at John Hopkins University, President Karzai announced his aim was to make Afghanistan a regional trade center.

He said the construction of roads was particularly important so that Afghanistan can become a link between central Asia and Pakistan and Iran.

One of the most famous roads in Kabul is Chicken Street. It has long been the favorite haunt of foreign visitors for its antique and carpet shops.

This area is the equivalent of midtown Manhattan and the price of real estate per square foot is close to equaling New York now because of the economic boom.

I asked my fixer Akbar about a number of apparently destroyed homes nearby expecting him to say it was caused by past fighting in the capital.

But the answer was no. In fact, they were being pulled down because the government wanted to widen the road!

Kabul, though, still has major problems.

The threat of car bombs by the Taliban is always here and it seems to be growing as the militant group attempts to bring the war to Kabul.

For some people in the Afghan capital, particularly women who have lost their husbands in recent wars, a much bigger concern is to just feed their children.

One of the saddest sights here are women covered in burkas resorting to begging on the streets.

But for many people in Kabul, the biggest challenge is to get their new imported cars
through the traffic jams here.

And in these snarl ups the interaction between coalition forces and the local population is something to behold.

With the threat of car bombs, western soldiers tend to try to force their way through the traffic to the anger of Afghans.

Akbar and I had a first hand look at what the people of Kabul have to deal with.

We were waiting in a traffic jam when a car hit us from behind.

Of course, we looked to see who it was and perhaps sort out between us if there was any damage.

Instead, we had an irate French soldier running up to our side window in full military fatigues brandishing a metal pole and screaming at us to get out of the way.

Of course we tried but perhaps we didn’t move quickly enough for these gallic soldiers.
As we pulled over, the driver of the white suburban drew his pistol and pointed it at us as the other gave us the finger.

And as the armored suburban cars drew away, another soldier opened the side door and pointed his pistol at us.

I was more saddened than shocked. These were not young soldiers as you see in the U.S. forces in Iraq but seasoned French troops who obviously couldn’t control themselves in an urban environment.

Instead of quietly traveling through Kabul without bringing attention to themselves, which would be preferable to them and everyone else, they made themselves a target of potential attackers.

The funny thing: As we followed them, they went around a roundabout the wrong way into traffic. Our final image was the French soldiers jumping out again screaming at car drivers to get out of the way.

C‘est la vie and au revoir oh and bon voyage.