Blood red sky in the Central Hazarajat.
It is a few days ago. I have arrived back from Lal and am in a car, being driven back from the airport. Amin is my driver, and he is normally a placid old man. Today he gestures at the narco/ graft palaces and his old voice barks. ‘This is where the American dollar goes. These… houses! Look at them. Look at the people they employ! Look at this. Where did they get such riches? This money is for Afghanistan, but they have taken it! They have a contract with the US army. They send one truck of cement to Kandahar, and write that they sent 10 on the bill. Then they take the money.’
Afghans are angry. Not all Afghans, and not all the time, but after four months back in country, in this our seventh year here, I am fast concluding that this is becoming an angry nation. In Taliban times, it was a depressed nation. Dark, sad and moribund. Then there were a few years of optimism, and I clearly remember the time when America was a favoured nation amongst ordinary Afghans.
Not any longer. I did a recent straw poll of the neighbourhood where we live, and every fifth house has been, or is being pulled down. New, monstrous, flashy, concrete and glass, narco/ graft palaces are built in their place. Each of these – we live opposite four such houses – is owned by a businessman, an army general, a Member of Parliament, a warlord, someone who has found a way to get rich from the flood of money being drained into this country. And each of these wealthy, powerful men employ a small militia of private security (all armed with Kalashnikovs or side arms), drivers, guards, droolers, cookers, cleaners, hangers-on and helpers-out. They are lucky. The wealthy men and those in their employ. They have found a way to suck at the cash cow, and they suck hard. Others, ordinary people, the little people stand by and watch how these people – their countrymen – have grown fabulously wealthy in the last few years. For a while they wondered at it. Then they frowned at it. Now they are just angry.
It is a dangerous time. Poor people are not stupid people and they know what is going on. None of this is building peace.
As a taxi driver told me a few years ago, ‘Wait till the Americans go. Then the streets will run with blood.’