Saturday, August 19, 2006

Remember Afganistan?

Not so much.
Less than a year ago, this was a city on the rebound after years of conflict, drought and political isolation. Business was booming with an influx of international development aid, shops stayed open late, markets burst with locally grown fruit and traffic snarled hopelessly much of the time.

Today Kandahar is a ghost town, braced for the next suicide bomb and full of refugees from rural districts where Taliban insurgents are battling Afghan and NATO forces. Streets are all but empty of vehicles, foreign aid offices are reduced to skeleton crews and shoppers hurry home before dark instead of lingering at tea shops.

As 10,000 NATO troops fan across southern Afghanistan seeking to contain and quash the rapidly growing insurgency, Kandahar -- both the religious birthplace of the Taliban militia and the homeland of President Hamid Karzai -- seems to symbolize the dashed hopes and angry confusion that have gripped much of Afghanistan's Pashtun tribal belt.

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