Postcards From Afghanistan

Tyler Durden's picture

ConvergEx's Nick Colas undertook a recent trip to Afghanistan.  As he notes, the country has a long way to go to reestablish a viable economy and political stability, but he saw enough to be optimistic on both counts.  Security around the capital is tight, and Afghan troops look professional and disciplined.  There is ample food on display in countless local grocery stands.  Girls go to school throughout the city, although women are a less common sight on the streets.  Scarcity makes for odd economic outcomes – the only passenger car you’ll see is a Toyota Corolla, imported from different countries.  No Afghan will be surprised that you are a tourist in their country – they are still very proud of its history and resilience.  Westerners there will assume you are “On business.” Here are seven “Postcards from Kabul” with his last observations from this trip.

Via Nick Colas, ConvergEx,

I called my mom for Mother’s Day on Saturday from the Istanbul Airport.  “I didn’t want you to worry, but I have been in Afghanistan for the past week.  Everything’s fine and I am out of the country now.  Happy Mother’s Day!”  There was a pause on the line, longer than the satellite connection would explain.  “Oh…  I see.  All right.  Thank you for not telling me before you went.”  In truth, Mom has no one to blame but herself, and she knew that.  My interest in travel and history is all from her.  If I had told her about the trip before I left I was sure she would have tried to come along.

Now that I am back in the United States, I have a few final thoughts about my trip.  If you missed last week’s note on the topic, allow me to explain.  I have spent the last week in Kabul on a tourist visa.  The idea behind the trip was to see first hand the museums and other points of cultural significance on offer in and around Afghanistan’s capital city.  I also wanted to witness what was going on in the country and assess whatever outcomes America’s longest war might be visible to the naïve and naked eye.

Obviously, it would take far more than a week to have a truly informed point of view on Afghanistan’s economic and social progress.  Traveling as a tourist, you merely get snippets and snapshots of reality.  Those make for a coherent paragraph, not a book or feature article.  So here are some “Postcards from Kabul” with my last observations from this trip.

Postcard #1 - On women and girls.  Afghanistan is a profoundly conservative Islamic country, the only feature of society that truly binds the nation’s different ethnic groups together. To the western eye, the most visible sign of this strict adherence is the sight of women in public covered head to toe in blue burqas, even their eyes invisible behind a cloth grill.  Not every female you encounter on the streets of Kabul wears it; some have tightly-fitted headscarves, although they tend to be younger.  The other thing you’ll notice is that the ratio of men to women on the street looks to be about 10:1, even though decades of war means the population skews more female than most.


You do see quite a few girls going to and from school every day, clustered together in small lively groups.  The signs around the educational institutions for them point to foreign influences – the Turk-Afghan school for girls near my hotel, for example, and the French-Afghan Lycee in Istalif, a small hillside town not far from the Bagram airbase north of Kabul.  There were several articles in the local English-language newspaper last week about the trouble women still have in pursuing an education and finding work.  My hotel, the Serena Kabul, certainly made a point to hire local women.  Aside from that, however, I saw none.


Postcard #2 - On the Afghan Police/Military.  Travel through Kabul and you will see a lot of military and police personnel on the street.  They staff checkpoints and direct traffic.  They patrol in green four-pickups.  They guard the museums and public spaces.  Overall, they look distinctly sharper and better disciplined than most of their third-world counterparts.  Their weapons are bright and they carry them in the same manner as western armies.  Their uniforms are pressed and clean.


My only significant encounter with an Afghan Army officer came at the Bala Hissar, an ancient fort in Kabul’s old city.  It is widely discussed in the guidebooks, so I had my driver roll up to the checkpoint at its base to ask for admission.  What the guidebooks fail to mention is that the Bala Hissar is an active military base. The confused soldier at the gate brought over his commanding officer, who sported a set of U.S. Special Forces style sunglasses.  His handshake was rock hard, atypical for Afghan greetings where anything more than a gentle press is rude.  I was clearly not his first American…  There was no request for a “Special payment” to see the fort.  Just a polite “Please leave.  You can look at the fort from the outside.”  Which is exactly what we did.


Postcard #3 - On traffic and roads.  I don’t think Kabul has a single traffic light.  At least I didn’t see one last week.  There are traffic circles and occasional checkpoints and the odd stop sign.  There is even a countdown clock – as if there were a traffic light – in front of the American University.  But no light.


The roads alternate between smooth and virtually impassable, often within the same 100 yards.  Most drivers navigate the streets at a suitably slow pace, simply because there is no room for error.  People walk through moving traffic everywhere through the city.  There is a system of unofficial minibuses that offer rides for a few pennies, picking up and dispensing customers through their sliding side doors without coming to a full stop.


Postcard #4 – The Mighty Toyota Corolla.  After a few days in Kabul you come to realize that there is only one kind of passenger car on the city’s streets: the Corolla.  As you look at them more closely you find that some still bear stickers from US and Canadian dealerships.  Others, from Japan or Australia, are right hand drive.  My unofficial tally puts Toyota Corolla passenger market share in Kabul at about 97%.  This makes sense once you pull up to the car parts area of any local bazaar.  There, mechanics have all the spare parts you’d need to create an entire Corolla from scratch.  That limited – but incredibly deep – base of resources keeps an entire city mobile at the lowest possible cost.


For SUVs, the Land Cruiser is king, of course, but my driver informed me that the “FourRunner” is the car younger people favor.  As for military applications, the Afghan Army uses 4 door Ford Ranger pickups with a machine gun mount where you might expect to see a light bar in the U.S.  American military seem to favor Ford products as well, rolling in convoys of unmarked Expeditions.  If you are a motorcycle fanatic, the most common offerings in Kabul are Iranian, available at the low price of $600 for a brand new bike.  Three-up riding is common, so there are two sets of passenger foot pegs.


Postcard #5 – Shopping in Kabul.  There are literally thousands of small shops on every major street in the city, offering everything from basic foodstuffs to clothing to building supplies.  Many more merchants offer up their wares from wheelbarrows and animal-drawn carts on the side of the road.  Food seems in good supply in the capital city – I saw everything from fresh cucumbers to rhubarb to radishes on offer.  Meat lovers need to be careful, however.  Animals are grazed in the trash heaps around the city and freshly slaughtered fare hangs outside on hooks awaiting purchase.  To the delight of the local flies, if not to the end consumer.


Postcard #6 – You Meet the Nicest People…  Sort of.  While haggling over some pottery in a small village about 20 miles outside Kabul, a white bearded man in local dress walked up and said “You sound like we’re from the same part of the world.”  He looked for all the world like a Pashtun tribesman, but he spoke with a northern Midwest accent.  I said “Hi, my name is Nick.”  I think he said his name was Hal.  He said he came up to the village for relaxation and after many years in the region he was very comfortable.  After a brief chat with the shopkeeper in what they said was perfect Pashto, he disappeared.


When I was checking in for my flight back to Istanbul, the fellow in front of me was having trouble coming up with the $240 needed for his excess baggage.  He was clearly a contractor – military haircut, desert boots, and powerful build.  I put $100 on the counter for him, feeling that he would appreciate the help from a fellow American.  He looked at me and said, “Thanks.  Are you with ICG too?”  I said no.  He asked where I worked.  Rather than give the ConvergEx story, I just said “Nowhere special.  Don’t worry about it.”  He fell quiet and did not address me again, even in the crowded waiting area after security.


Postcard #7 – Summing up.  Afghanistan has been a front-page country for the West since before its modern borders were even established.  It has famously been the “Graveyard of Empires” for first the British and later the Soviets.  America and its coalition partners are set on avoiding that curse with their exit next year.  Unlike their predecessors, however, this group has invested heavily in reconnecting Afghanistan to the rest of the world’s community of nations and building a secure and viable stand-alone country.  For those who complain that the progress has been too slow, I think they underestimate what the term ‘Failed state” really means.

The people I met understand the future of their country is still tenuous, at best.  Afghanistan is very poor and the Taliban are far from defeated.  At the same time they appreciate that they now have a chance for a better future, if not for themselves then for their children.  I truly hope they make it. 

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prains's picture



or moar cowbell whatever comes first

Fukushima Sam's picture

Did I wander into a Simon Black fluff piece?

prains's picture

only if you can hear the sound of a hair dryer

SpiceMustFlow's picture

"Postcards from Kabul"


The last things the British/Russians ever sent out....

Urban Redneck's picture

If his perspective of economic and social progress is predicated on the existence of a functioning central government in Kabul, it will last about as long as his vacation in Kabul, once the spigot of free dollars, guns, and blood is shut off.

fx's picture

Karsai and his U.S.- and Chevron-sponsored men are toast the very moment the last foreign troops have left. But then again, the Taliban have been sponsored to this date by Pakistan's ISI - and Pakistan in turn is sponsored by the U.S. We have come full circle, once again - go figure.

General Decline's picture

" Security around the capital is tight, and Afghan troops look professional and disciplined."


CH1's picture

Funny that the word bribe never shows up in the piece. A MAJOR disconnect from reality.

otto skorzeny's picture

Simon only goes where there are hot and cold running blondes.

JOYFUL's picture

No ... I think you wandered into a State Department PR release. Or "Nick" took the wrong pill when he asked for anti-dysentery medicine!

This is gettin scary... first we get the offensive material notice... now we are getting deluged by enemy incoming... has ZH finally been penetrated, and like VT couple years back... turned into a counter-intel pro megaphone? Read and weep///

America and its coalition partners are set on avoiding that curse with their exit next year.  Unlike their predecessors, however, this group has invested heavily in reconnecting Afghanistan to the rest of the world’s community of nations and building a secure and viable stand-alone country. 

...I'm starting to see a pattern here... and it's not a good one. Person's with an appearance of former sanity start going full retard... their pieces becoming shill soundbites for the CoalitionoftheKilling... we invade more countries under the banner of "freeing peeple"... more megadeath and MIC megaprofits ensue... everybody's a winner - Right!? Are Tylers the new Gordon Duff*?

This piece is definitely in the running for WORST EVER PIECE O TRASH EVER PUBLISHED ON ZEROHEDGE!


* ///infamous day two years back when what was the premier anti-sionist franchise goes nuts for Obomber's Zatonic attack plans. Now Duff talks flying saucers and gobbleygook... mindcontroller of the media minions get another pal to play with!

BeetleBailey's picture

"America and its coalition partners are set on avoiding that curse with their exit next year.  Unlike their predecessors, however, this group has invested heavily in reconnecting Afghanistan to the rest of the world’s community of nations and building a secure and viable stand-alone country."


.....Talk about a complete oral pussy fart!

Rogue Trooper's picture

Yep, this must be from a bored or rogue Tyler who decided to post this just 'To fuck with us".

I think even the State Department PR/Spin Team would cringe at posting this drivel due to the reaction they would get.

Que, 'Postcards from Detriot' any day now....

JOYFUL's picture

...a rogue Tyler...

I likes your imagery.Is that like, Brad wit a Che bonnet? or what...  Can somebody do that up on a mug or Tee? Maybe even 3-D?

oops... I forgot.

thisandthat's picture

Give the author some credit: he says he saw enough to be optimistic, not enough to be realistic - he'll probably need some more time for that...

CH1's picture

I think you wandered into a State Department PR release.

Yes. You can stuff the "Zionist" crap, but your first line is dead on accurate.

JOYFUL's picture

Actually, you should ask "State" to 'stuff the zionist crap'...

don't blame me... I'm just the messenger!

BraveSirRobin's picture

Dudes, it's just someone's perception. Please allow for different perspectives. Reasoned critique would be helpful. However, to sink it just because it is not doom and gloom....

Having said that, I too think the central government is toast after US men and dollars evaporate. They will fall quickly back into warlordism. They are not far from it now.

The_Dude's picture

Joyless....I shudder to think what a utopian Afganistan is to you....or America for that matter.

Davalicious's picture

Simon Black is the fluffer in chief.

1C3-N1N3's picture

Ask for cowbell.

Receive ZH'er cowbell. (1:45)

"America and its coalition partners are set on avoiding that curse"

Don't be so sure about that. This empire is certainly dying out.

13thWarrior's picture

Most pathans buy Toyota Corolla as an investment.

DoChenRollingBearing's picture

The Toyota Corolla is a great car, there are LOTS in Peru.

But, Hyundai is catching up, with its Sonata and Accent models.

I wonder who is bringing in all their wheel bearings?  With the conditions of those roads & streets, bearing importers should be smiling...

BraveSirRobin's picture

They are, of course, likely all stolen and re-sold. You see a lot of older US made cars in third world countries. Most are stolen and transported overseas, if you can believe that. Central America is full of them. I even saw a couple with the original very expired plates on them.

And this is a kid you not story. My first car was a very used POS Ford Granada. Possibly the worst car ever made. It was black, with 4 doors, and had a silver luggage rack on the trunk, with wire spoke wheels. I had the only one like it that I ever saw in the US. Thankfully, it was stolen while I was in college. Some years later, in Guatamala, I swear I saw the car cross a street in the intersection ahead of me. I was unable to catch up with it to check to see if it were mine. 

prains's picture

i need moar cowbell!!

freewolf7's picture

This feels like a piece from MSM.

Can we get a picture of "progress" without a soldier in it?

Freddie's picture

Afghanistan - huge watse of money and lives.   Protect US borders and keep islamo scum out - problem solved.

Jack Burton's picture

Afghanistan after a trillion American dollars and a few thousand lives?

Girls in the capital go to school, so what? Under Soviet Occupation they opened the schools to girls to. So explain again the progress there under a decade of US war?


otto skorzeny's picture

The MIC's  bottom line and the CIA's hidden Swiss bank accounts have progressed nicely

john39's picture

billions of dollars worth of herion flood the world, poisoning youth...  destroying cultures... making the satanic bankers drool with delight.   

Jack Burton's picture

Indeed! All that Heroin money gets laundered through USA and UK banks! Bankers get their cut, what's not to like.

BraveSirRobin's picture

The problem is, if you start screwing with the heroin production in Afghanistan, everyone starts shooting at you. The place basically has an Islamic hillbilly culture. Revenuers and anyone from any central authority who wants to tell them what to do is basically not welcome. In truth, the Taliban is not really liked much either. They are liked so long as they are a counter to a central government. They collapsed quickly after 9/11 because they had become a central authority in many parts of the country and were therefore dispised.

This is thousands of years of culture, and no one is going to change it with a few years of "nation building." The last thing most of these people want is a "nation" to belong too.

otto skorzeny's picture

There is a huge heroin problem in the US and the stupid fucks in US LE won't admit where it's all coming from-and the MSM sure isn't going to get off the script. The heroin supply dried up when the Taliban was in charge because growing poppies was punishable by death because of religious beliefs- now it's easier to get than pot.

BLOTTO's picture
I think now, looking back, we did not fight the enemy, we fought ourselves - and the enemy was in us ... The war is over for me now, but it will always be there - the rest of my days. As I am sure Elias will be - fighting with Barnes for what Rhah called possession of my soul ... There are times since I have felt like the child born of those two fathers ... but be that as it may, those of us who did make it have an obligation to build again, to teach to others what we know and to try with what's left of our lives to find a goodness and meaning to this life

overmedicatedundersexed's picture

in my war, the CIA ran Air America, some think it was nothing but a way to move heroin from Laos into vietnam, heroin for the boys in the green machine. sad to think they were right.

Freddie's picture

LBJ got a lot richer off Vietnam.   China Boxer Rebellion was all about drugs.  Vietnam, Balkans/Serbia, Afghnaistan, border of Mexico, Panama.  U.S. military, CIA and drugs.

The Italian Mafia resisted getting into drug or supposedlt at least the 5 families in NYC.  Eventually they caved in because the money was astronomical.  Youtube has a few good videos with Bill Bonnano and other former NYC wise guys.  They said the money was insane.

BraveSirRobin's picture

Indeed, one of the reasons the Taliban became unpopular and fell so easily is because it messed with the poppy harvest. Things were actually not going so bad in Afghanistan for us when we had a small foot print and did not mess with the poppy production. But then someone noticed and got all moral, and we started to destroy the poppy fields and go after growers. After that, we became personna non-grata, and they started shooting at us.

Bottom line, if you go after a man's livelyhood, he's gonna go after you.

nasa's picture

and there are nice new highways for Chinese mining companies to get heavy equipment to and from Afgani rare earth mineral deposits.   

TheMeatTrapper's picture



Afghanistan after a trillion American dollars and a few thousand lives?

Girls in the capital go to school, so what? Under Soviet Occupation they opened the schools to girls to. So explain again the progress there under a decade of US war?


Indeed. I have a cousin who enlisted in the Marines to serve his country. He deployed to Astan and was ordered to drive down a road where they hit an IED. He came home missing most of his lower body. At 18 years of age. For fucking nothing. 

I have another cousin who was career Army. Two deployments to the Pakistani border. He came home with a Bronze Star with V for valor. He quit the Army after he came home. I asked him what was his biggest accomplishment over there. "I brought all my men home in one piece". That was his big accomplishment. 

I have no use for any Afghan fuck or anybody who thinks we need to shed one American life to rebuild that useless, miserable, shit stain of a country. 

Nuke the motherfuckers and let the survivors starve for all I care. 

john39's picture

Blame the monsters who sent them to Afghanistan. The afghans did not ask to be rescued or invaded by foreign armies.

JOYFUL's picture

You don't need to ask for help in 'defending your freedoms'... helpful 'contracters' and their media sidekicks are standing by 24-7 to protect the peoples of the world from too much of their own backwardness... and drag them kickin n screamin into the NWO nightmare which Hilary&Co are mandated by the millenialist madmen in telaviv to spread like a viral plague.

Postcards from a Nightmare Nick has almost convinced me that our special troll anAnonymous has clued into the truth... 'americanism' may in fact really exist... as a potent kind of mental contagion which eats brains and creates ZIO-mbies.

Meat lovers need to be careful, however.  Animals are grazed in the trash heaps around the city and freshly slaughtered fare hangs outside on hooks awaiting purchase.  To the delight the local flies...

 Nick will be returning soon to the land of the pink slime... where the cattle graze on the carefully controlled hygenic and wholesome refuse of the MIC... toxic hormones... antibiotics... gmo's ... and undisclosed waste product feeds too terrible to even contemplate... all neatly packaged up n trimmed for Merikans to buy at a reasonable price... so as to better turn themselves into mobile toxic waste carbon units under the mindcontrolled command of the GreatLeader and GayBathouse Helmsman!

I'll stick with the flies thanks Nick... they're much much cleaner than than you... inside n outside!

AnAnonymous's picture

'americanism' may in fact really exist...

Sign of an 'american': take shelter in fantasy when confronted with reality, here denial of the existence of 'americanism'.

Element's picture

They have a leader that is the worlds largest drug pusher.  Barry and the pusher have an excellent 'working-relationship'.

silvermail's picture

There is only two differences between the Bouchard-Assad in Syria and Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan:
1. Karzai is a drug dealer.
2. Karzai is a puppet of Washington and is waging war against its own people. While Assad is fighting a war for the interests of the its own people and against the puppets of Washington.

otto skorzeny's picture

Did he get a tour of the CIA's poppy fields?

fonzannoon's picture

Nick how much did a prime rib run you at the Sparks in Kabul? I need to get a gague on things over there....

otto skorzeny's picture

Nice to see he helped out some POS mercenary contractor that probably just got done waterboarding some goat herder and the guy is probably knocking down $200k a year working for Xe.