Kabul Unpacked: A Geographical Guide to a Metropolis In The Making
Young Kabulis practicing martial arts in the basement of the (now-restored) Chehel Sotun Palace in PD 7 of Kabul. It is one of the many landmarks featuring in “Kabul Unpacked”. Photo: Thomas Ruttig, 2004
Today, AAN publishes a new report, “Kabul Unpacked: A Geographical Guide to a Metropolis In The Making”. In maps and text, Author Fabrizio Foschini charts Kabul’s 22 police districts, their history, landmarks and architecture, population and security. We hope this guide will be a go-to, easily-used backgrounder for a city that many of us love, a means for readers to, at least virtually, navigate the winding roads and numerous neighbourhoods of the Afghan capital.
This report is a somehow a hybrid publication. Started by the author as a list of notes about the different neighbourhoods of Kabul, it was enlarged and enriched by the contribution of several colleagues and friends of AAN and by a set of maps. It starts with a short general introduction covering the historical development of Kabul and the more recent history of war, destruction and migration that have enshrouded city life.This is followed by descriptions and maps of each of the administrative sub-divisions of the city: Kabul’s 22 urban districts, or, as they are usually referred to, Police Districts, often shortened to PDs.
The reasons why the author took a map-and-text approach to creating a guide to Kabul are manifold. To write about a city is a darn complicated thing, especially when the material you tap into includes both factual research and a collection of impressions originating from different experiences of the city’s parts and characters over a span of more than 15 years. There is a great temptation to strive to give an authoritative and comprehensive account of the city’s history, architecture, population and peculiarities. This would, however, be a hopeless enterprise if ever there was one. To stick to a schematic format, using the maps to structure the writing, is one way to avoid either personal preference or the greater availability of data on certain areas from taking over and unbalancing the whole project. Kabul’s less-famous spots are worth exploring too.
By treating Kabul’s urban districts individually, we hope to provide readers with the pieces of a puzzle they can then connect, according to their own interest, experience and understanding, to create a more fitting image of the city. Ideally, this report should be imagined as a ‘work in progress’: a trail from which to wander. It is meant to spur Kabulis of all walks of life, as well as visitors, to add to this starting point with their own say about the city they live in.
The author, when putting this report together, was reminded of the imagined words of Marco Polo in Italia Calvino’s novel, Invisible Cities, that cities:
… like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else…You take delight not in a city’s seven or seventy wonders, but in the answer it gives to a question of yours.
Marco Polo’s interlocutor in the novel, the Chinese emperor Kublai Khan, replies that you take delight rather “in the question [a city] asks you, forcing you to answer.”
The full report can be downloaded here: Kabul Police Districts
Fabrizio Foschini discusses history and development of Kabul city in this podcast.