Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Context and Culture

White mountains, White City

Thomas Ruttig 2 min

On his first day in Kabul again after some time in Europe, AAN’s Thomas Ruttig finds spring scents and dust on the tongue in the Afghan capital, and the two universes – that of Afghans and that of the expat community – fully intact: one picknicking, the other one in ‘White City’ lock-down.

Back to Kabul after a few months absence, on a weekend, the city gets into me through all my senses again. The eyes marvel at the almond flowers already in full bloom in the AAN garden, the first fresh green at the trees peeks over the neighbors’ walls and the swallows darting across the sky. The sun is shining warm on my skin while my tongue bites the fine, bitter (and unhealthy) dust that is everywhere – also hiding the Paghman mountains from my view which, as I am told, are still covered in snow. In the afternoon, a sudden gust of wind creates a snowstorm of pink petals, than the sun is out again.

But I recognize Kabul through my ears: the Friday morning sermon of the imam-bara which is transmitted from the slightly crackling loudspeaker at the Shia mosque in Taimani; the Chinese theme of the ice-cream vendor pushing his cards down the road outside (he is not able to extract the chip, not for all dollars in the world); blasting Afghan pop from a car that bumps along the dusty side-road; the helicopters flying around in circles above. This is the only sound reminding you that the surge is on and the Taleban aren’t as dead as General Petraeus pretends.

Cowardly and on the run, as they are, they continue frightening everyone who has access to a security officer with the suicide bombers that are reportedly roaming Kabul’s streets – and the whole diplomatic community is under lock-down since three days again: ‘White city’. And this time, we are assured, it is really serious. A multiple attack must be expected today. The number of suicide bombers is growing with every phone call: 21, 50, 66… Ali Baba and the 40 thieves. (We should mention here that those who collect information and distribute warnings also pay their informers who, by that, might be encouraged to earn some extra money by adding a few made-up stories.)

This does not mean that there is no danger. Of course, the insurgents do send suicide bombers and ‘commando units’ into towns and villages: There was the second ambush against the Safi City Centre, an attack at a Buzkashi game in Faryab province, the vicious bank robbery in Jalalabad (but, to paraphrase Bertolt Brecht, what is a bank robbery compared with founding a Kabul Bank), the attack against a police recruitment centre in Kunduz, the assassinations of a Provincial Council member in Laghman and a school principal in Kandahar, the suicide bomber in the Qalat main bazaar just two days ago… But I am not sure whether this is really a sign of weakness.

And while we were keeping a low profile (not as low as the diplomats), the Kabul population was using the Friday of an extended weekend – Nowruz plus the Thursday proclaimed a smog holiday for government offices emulated by everyone who can – to go picknicking in the Shamali or Paghman. Karta-ye Se and the area around the zoo were also reported to be crowded. No warnings received, apparently.

By now it is 11 pm. Our listening post who had been on the roof all day (only kidding) did not need to report any incident. Khush amadi, Kabulistan paranoia.