April 8, 2010

Kabul, Afghanistan

I was in Kabul in 2010 to work on Afghanistan’s energy sector, primarily with the national electric utility, DABS, which the prime contractor I’m working for successfully corporatized in 2009, with shares in the resulting entity evenly divided between the Ministry of Commerce and the Ministry of Water and Energy. Since then efforts shifted to achieving cost-recovery through reengineering of billing, finance & accounting, customer service, HR and IT functions.
kabul mazar
Afghanistan is a strangely beautiful and haunting place. Much of its beauty comes from its barrenness and desolation, similar to Balochistan, where I spent a lot of time growing up. Standing in the wide open plains between mountain and desert, it is easy to feel at peace. You’ll run into interesting and colorfully dressed characters everywhere, all with interesting stories, many of them very tragic. And yet they are quick to smile and laugh with you.

I hope these people get what they want, what they’ve always wanted, an Afghanistan where they can lead normal lives. Where they have food, water, healthcare, education, dignity and above all, peace. I hope the 2014 transition will be relatively peaceful but the potential for another prolonged conflict is still very much present.

I found Kabul to be strikingly similar to Quetta, Pakistan. While my personal security detail didn’t allow me alot of freedom of movement, I took advantage of every opportunity to talk to Afghans about their lives and get their opinions on the war. I had expected some negative treatment for being Pakistani but the opposite wound up happening, I received exceptionally warm treatment because of it. It turns out many Afghans feel Pakistan treated them very well when millions of their refugees streamed across the border during the war with the Soviets. Many received their educations in Pakistan and expressed feelings of gratitude towards a country that treated them like their own to the point they almost forgot they were refugees.

My compound was in the Shash Darak area near the main ISAF base. I went out to dinner to several of the well-known restaurants that cater to international workers like myself. Dinner often ran over $50 per person including one or two drinks, which initially surprised me. But then war profiteering often works out like that. America basically dropped a large container of money on Kabul when it invaded it and it shows. Suitcases of $100 bills make their way around the city in armoured Landcruisers like Dominos pizza deliveries. Guns, contracts, narcotics, political favors – they all have a price.