Kabul 19 August 2009. The day started with a several hour shoot-out in Kabul’s old centre after a handful of armed men attacked a bank. The attack was claimed by a Taliban spokesperson and the story that was passed around was that the Taliban had entered the city and that fighting had started, which sounded more alarming than the incident warranted. It took a while to die down and added to the nervousness brought on by several rocket attacks and two suicide bombings during the days before.
The city went into something close to lockdown. It was Independence Day (one of many). Some people took the opportunity to go out with friends, but many had no real reason to leave their houses and stayed at home. Life more or less came to a standstill, which seemed to add to the feeling that anything was possible. Absurd rumours suddenly didn’t seem so impossible anymore. “They say that the Taliban in Zabul is telling people that 29 assad (20 August) will be the last day of this regime.” “Someone just called and said that Karzai has fled the country”.
The television in the meantime showed speeches and election adverts calling on people to “vote without fear.” Journalists were ordered not to report on violence until the poll ended in order to safeguard people’s morale (why would anyone think that that would make people feel safer and less confused?). A young newsreader in a large turban reported on the decrees and ended with news of the recent killing of the Registan district governor – slightly hurried, probably wondering whether he was being brave or stupid.
And then things seemed to settle down. The television channels switched back to Hindi serials and elections talk shows (there is something reassuring about listening to analysts), news readers continued to report on the day’s incidents.
“Sorry to call you so late, but the news that Karzai has left was a lie. He is in his palace.”
The acceleration of incidents, the threats and the uncertainty of whether this is all or whether the worst is yet to come clearly impacted many Kabulis. They remember how bad things can get once they unravel. But they will probably pull themselves together. Wait it out a few hours and then go and vote. Find out that life goes on after the elections.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020