The Kabul airport harkens back to the days of the Soviet invasion. It is small, cold, but immigration moves along fairly quickly. Aleem, our invaluable local producer, meets me and has most of the luggage already loaded on a cart. We walk outside and to my surprise, it's empty. Aleem explains that anyone meeting passengers has to wait about 300 yards away from the terminal, outside, at a gate. My first taste of the security situation here.
A quick trip to the hotel, and I get my second taste of the security situation in the city. Most of the roads are lined with walls -- some 15-20 feet high. Gates and doors for access remain closed except when vehicles come and go. Buildings lay behind them, but are not seen and frequently not identified by a sign. The hotel is the same and we -- along with all our gear -- must go through security to gain entry. There was a suicide attack here a year ago on the hotel gym and spa. Taliban militants used grenades and machine guns to gain access to the hotel lobby. Seven people died.
With attacks on the rise, pessimism is up and security fears loom large, even as the United States considers sending more troops to the country.
The city is busy. Dust everywhere. There has been a five-year old drought here. Traffic everywhere, no rules on the road. Vehicles coming within inches of each other, but never touching. Clearly poor, children on the street hawking cassette tapes and maps of Kabul. But there is also a never-ending supply of shops selling appliances, electronics, clothes, one selling expensive-looking western dresses. We pass by bakeries, butcher shops with whole pigs hanging in the open air. There seems to be plenty of commerce taking place.
We visit the headquarters of the polling company that conducted the field work for the ABC/BBC/ARD poll. We accompany a couple of poll workers who are going to survey some local Afghans. We head to the edge of Kabul and visit a couple of simple houses. Our hosts are gracious. From the answers to the poll worker, their main concerns are security and jobs. Later, we find out while working on a separate survey, two poll workers are killed, a reminder of how dangerous the country is.
Dave Warner is a fascinating guy. Twice a doctor (MD and PhD), he has boundless energy and is convinced the U.S. is going about its mission in Afghanistan the wrong way. He runs a house outside Jalalabad where young people -- generally exceedingly smart international students -- come and help teach the locals what they can produce, using the simplest of tools and resources. It is called the Fab Lab.
One project we see them working on was making a pair of communications towers. Cutting pieces of wood, assembling them together in a concave structure and staple gunning chicken wire to it, they mount the antennas and are able to extend Internet service to the hospital three miles away. It's a cheap, easy, and very valuable way to help win "hearts and minds."