Pankaj Mishra in the New York Review of Books:
Much of Kabul is built of mud. And when it rained before last Christmas— relieving a long and severe drought— the whole city seemed to melt. The piles of sludge on its unpaved lanes rose, as though in a slow-moving tide, until it spattered everything: the big white Land Cruisers of aid agencies and Afghan ministers, the beat-up yellow taxis, the bombed-out palaces of western Kabul and the bullet-pocked huts on steep hills, the fortified foreign embassies and UN offices, and even the high billboards exhorting Afghans, in idiosyncratic English, to “national reconciliation and peace.”
Despite the rain and cold, the bazaars were crowded. Shopkeepers representing almost all of Afghanistan’s ethnic groups—Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, and Turkmens —hawked oranges, carpets, Chinese-made windbreakers, and electronic goods, while beggars—mostly disabled children and widows in burkas— squatted beside the open sewers and tugged at the wide trousers of passing men.
It was strange to find no white faces in these crowds. Even in the modern part of Kabul, where thousands of Europeans and Americans—mostly soldiers, diplomats, aid workers, and businessmen—live, the streets were empty. Afghan guards with Kalashnikovs stood in front of the iron gates set in high concrete walls topped with barbed wire. The gates occasionally opened to reveal a new or renovated mansion, and to release or swallow a Land Cruiser with tinted windows.