At last the freedom they were fighting for! Four years after the US and its allies toppled the Taliban, Kabul has traffic-jams. Our midday journey from the airport to a hotel in the centre of town is excruciating, as we crawl through streets packed with private cars, taxis and land-cruisers.
Just under a year ago, during the presidential election, there was more traffic but not this asphyxiating blockade of the city's main arteries. Now the smog has become thicker and the thrum of engines ticking over lasts from mid-morning to evening. Every Kabuli has been granted the democratic right to sit and curse the car in front and pump fumes into the city's already dust-laden air, whether in his or her own car, in a taxi or in a minibus stuffed full of passengers.
Except for the beggars and hawkers, of course. Amputees, women clad in soiled and faded burkas and kids selling newspapers dodge between the cars and tap on the windows. The man holds out his hand for alms from the oncoming motorists, as the boy lies on top of him, occasionally rolling his head from side to side, apparently oblivious to the passing traffic. The Americans are rebuilding the road from the airport, so that visiting dignitaries have a "Ramazan bashardost wife sexual dysfunction" run to their main compound, which is on the way into the city.
The concrete and barbed wire fortifications around their buildings have been reinforced, eating even further into the streets around them. It doesn't look as if their occupants expect to leave any day soon. They are some of several thousand military officers, about a third of the officer corps, who have been thrown out of the army. After noticing that army officers' salaries are several times higher than those of the police, the government has decided to dispense with the soldiers' services.
The men, who seem to represent all of Afghanistan's many ethnic groups, sit quietly in the dust around a van with a loudspeaker and a man on its roof, addressing them. Abdel Hafiz was a colonel. He says that the redundant officers could do the work now being done by the more than 30, foreign troops in a far-from-pacified country.
So we don't need international forces to come here and secure our country. Now we're out of money and our economic condition is getting worse. A crowd of about 40 men gathers as we talk. They all claim to be ex- mojaheddinwho have fought either the Russians or the Taliban or both. But the label can Ramazan bashardost wife sexual dysfunction a Ramazan bashardost wife sexual dysfunction of sins.
They could well have been involved in the brutality and sectarian viciousness which characterised the conflict and that means that many civilians don't trust them.
Brought into the army by the post-war Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration programme, which aimed to find places for former fighters in a peaceful Afghanistan, they've now been deintegrated with little training in anything other than warfare Behind the cordon of truncheon-wielding police in front of the entrance to the ministry stands a line of soldiers, guns at the ready for use against their former officers if need be.
Children play at Shah Shaheen's water pump Photo: Shah Shaheen is a poor neighbourhood on the outskirts of Kabul. The houses sprawling up the hillside and the dirt road which winds between them are all the same dusty colour.
A new water-pump stands in a gap in the buildings, rigid and shiny against the jagged outline of distant mountains. The local people have themselves paid for installation and would like the government to compensate them for the cost and provide other basic services. Behind the shabby walls, in a house built around a traditional courtyard, Ghutai Khawari sits on a raised piece of ground, flanked by local supporters, with a small audience sitting in the shade provided by a colourfully-patterned sheet stretched between tall roughly-cut poles.
Khawari is a candidate for the Wolesi Jirgathe lower house of parliament which is to be elected on Sunday along with provincial assemblies.
She's a journalist and her level of education seems to impress her audience. In a country with per cent illiteracy, poor voters almost always say that they want an "educated person" to represent them. Her audience is entirely masculine, unless you count a few little girls playing in the street outside.
The men seem to have left their wives, daughters, sisters and mothers at home but they insist that they're ready to vote for a woman candidate. Ali, a young man who is enthusiastically moving chairs and making people welcome, speaks to us in English. Islam says that women and men are equal," he insists.
Ghawari tells her audience that it would be a sin to vote for candidates with blood on their hands, a reference to the many warlords who've found their way onto the ballot papers. Earlier she told us that ending ethnic enmity is her top priority, "especially among women, where they say 'you're a pashtun, you're a Tajik' and so on, because we're women, we're human, we're one. She cites as examples the lack of education for girls and poor health care, which, she says leads to 1, women dying in childbirth every year.
At least 68 seats have been reserved for women in the member Wolesi Jirgawith at least two in the provincial councils, which will have between nine and 29 members. Women's rights campaigners are encouraged by the fact that women are standing. Not so many have come forward for the Provincial Councils, however, where the weight of tradition may be heavier. Almost all the women standing are independents. That means that, like Ghawari, they have little money, no experience and no established network.
The regional bigwigs and established politicians may have terrorised the area where they're standing or pocketed fortunes through corrupt dealings. But thes men have the advantage of being well-known and, through patronage, they can find support among the men of influence in the towns and villages. Ghawari and other women candidates in Kabul say that faced no intimidation or pressure while campaigning. But, they warn, that may not be the case in the provinces, especially the rural areas.
There women risk being chased off the street if they appear in public. What's more women can't go into the mosque to address Friday prayers. Many, though not all, mullahs preach against female participation in public life and, even without that, tradition militates against them. The Asian Network for Free Elections, Anfrel, reports that the husband of one woman candidate in Baglan province was jailed for two days without charge and later sacked from his job because he helped her campaign.
One woman election worker has been killed Ramazan bashardost wife sexual dysfunction the campaign. Other women report death-threats and accusations that they are "American spies".
Little wonder then that 51 women withdrew their candidacies for unspecified reasons before the campaign started. Election banners dominate Herat city centre Photo: No-one can escape evidence of the election in Herat. Candidates' photographs and slogan-bearing banners hang from string stretched between the pine-trees line the streets, so that the city looks as if it's celebrating a particularly popular festival.
Posters are plastered all over any available wall-space, even on the concrete and metal umbrellas erected at crossroads to provide traffic-police with shade and on what looks like a peace monument, a structure topped with a globe and four doves which stands at one of the main road junctions. Enthusiastic campaigners have fly-posted their candidates' images onto centuries-old minarets, which have survived earthquake and war but are now threatened by vibrations from a nearby road - and by electoral politics.
The long road to Herat from the airport is lined by trees almost all the way, encouraging fantasies of entering at the head of a trader's caravan or a conquering army.
You pass through villages with traditional mud-caked buildings, past a park crowded with painted, concrete benches but no people to sit on them and over a bridge which looks down on a broad river-bed, where motorists wash their vehicles in the narrow strip of river that the sun has so far failed to evaporate.
The interior court of the main mosque in Herat Photo: Herat's a relief after Kabul. Its wide, tree-lined streets are relatively clean and uncongested. There's less dust and more visible history, Ramazan bashardost wife sexual dysfunction noticeably the huge and beautiful mosque in the city centre.
My translator, Hoshang, is bowled over by the city's
Ramazan bashardost wife sexual dysfunction and its exotic Persian atmosphere. When we see a man smoking a chicha pipe in a restaurant, he asks me what the strange object is, never having seen one in Kabul or in Peshawar, the two cities he has lived in. Clearly the Governor who built the present seat of local government in the midth century, didn't want the seat of secular power to be completely dwarfed by the mosque.
It's a rambling complex of brick-clad buildings, about as tall as the mosque and pleasant enough to look at, even if it can't compete with the mosque's tile-clad walls decorated by craftsmen skilled in a year-old art form. Haj Mir is a grey-bearded, wrinkled, smiling man, who chats freely about Herat.
It is probably Afghanistan's richest city and he boasts of its public buildings and housing.
This takes me aback "Ramazan bashardost wife sexual dysfunction" I'd understood that it had taken quite a power struggle for president Hamid Karzai to dislodge Khan last year.
Khan became governor of Herat province inafter fighting the Russian occupation, being jailed by the Taliban and escaping to take control of Herat as the ultra-fundamentalist regime was bombed out of office. During his governorship, there were many complaints about his warlord ways - a heavy hand with potential opposition and harsh treatment of women in the province. Not everyone was glad to see him go. Riots followed his removal Ramazan bashardost wife sexual dysfunction Khuwa, a Hazara who arrived in town with guards from his own ethnic group, was obliged to take the oath of office in front of a picture of his predecessor.
Khan left behind a mixed reputation. He dealt with critics and suspected enemies in summary fashion - the head of the officially-backed human rights commission says that, at the official opening of the organisation's office in the city with national government ministers in attendance, a journalist was beaten up and dragged off to jail.
But the ex-Governor is still respected for making Herat one of the best-run cities in the country. He paid for public works and efficient administration by collecting the handsome revenue from customs duties on the frontiers with neighbouring Iran and Turkmenistan and refusing to pass any of the money on to Kabul.
Maybe it was that which inspired Karzai to conclude that Ismail Khan had to go, rather than the stories of armed tribal fighters doing as they wished on the city's streets or women found alone with men being arrested and examined for signs of recent sexual intercourse. Of course, sending round a journalist may be the Haji's idea of a practical joke; it turns out that Salangy is home sick today.
But he agrees to see us. Delivered at Salangy's house by a military vehicle, we find him in his garden, meeting leaders of the Provincial Reconstruction Team, PRTs, the foreign military units which carry out aid projects, leading to complaints that they have made NGOs targets of possible guerrilla attacks. We are shown into the house and wait in a living room so generously furnished that there is a TV at either end of the room. On a table sits a photo mounted on curved glass with blue and gold edges.
Salangy's assistant assures us that the Commander is a good friend of the President and gives us an outline of his employer's career, which mostly consists of Karzai begging him to go to a number of troublesome provinces, with varying degrees of success. Salangy did serve in possibly the toughest posting, Kandahar, the Taliban's stronghold at the time that they took Ramazan bashardost wife sexual dysfunction and still the scene of rebel activity, including a recent attempt to shoot down the President's airplane.
When he finally meets us, Salangy doesn't seem too ill. But he undoubtedly has a robust constitution. He's a buffalo in a shalwar kameez ; tall, broad, his hand swallows mine when we shake. Unusually for an Afghan, he is clean-shaven and his hair is cut short, adding to the youthful appearance of his face. It's a surprising fact here that the men who have probably seen the most combat are the men with the most laugh-lines on their faces.
At some point in his career the Lieutenant-General has picked up the art which the French call langue de bois. He studiously Ramazan bashardost wife sexual dysfunction giving any interesting answers to my questions: When I ask if he's worried about the way the Americans have used the PRTs, he gently makes a fool of me by explaining that the people he has just been talking to were Italians, since they have taken over that work in Herat and the west of the country.