|“Living well and securing one’s future is the order of the day” for most Afghans [EPA]
The road from Kabul airport to the posh and relatively secure Wazir Akbar Khan district, where much of the country’s affluent elites reside, is brimming with lush greenery.
All along the smooth drive, foliage sways in the warm breeze and colourful flowers are in full bloom.
There is nothing to suggest that this is a country teetering on the brink of political crisis. If anything, stability appears to have taken root. Democracy seems to be sprouting.
“Is this part of a state-sponsored greenification project?” I ask.
“We’ve had a great deal of rain this year after many years of drought. That’s helped,” explains an Afghan. “But certainly, the president has tried to take credit for God’s work as well!”
“Didn’t he once say that he had prayed for rain!” another jokes.
|Even some politicians supporting Karzai appear to do so with little enthusiasm [EPA]
Eight years after the ousting of the Taliban and on the eve of the country’s second “democratic” presidential elections, cynicism is rampant at every level of Afghan society.
Despite the emergence of a credible opposition this time around, most people are now resigned to the idea that the incumbent Hamid Karzai will win a second term in office, even if the elections move to a runoff.
His achievements, or lack thereof, are regularly scrutinised by the slew of privately-owned local TV channels that have sprung up in recent years, ironically, a legacy of the same president they routinely lambaste.
On a daily basis, promotional sketches are broadcast instructing Afghans to vote with their conscience.
One such skit shows a vegetables vendor in the bazaar trying to cheat a woman into buying rotten tomatoes. When she asks to choose her own tomatoes, he quips: “You’re great at choosing tomatoes, now make sure you choose a good leader for us in the elections!”
Talk of electoral fraud is steadily growing and there is an overwhelming sense of exasperation as Afghans prepare to head for the ballot boxes on August 20.
Even some of the politicians supporting Karzai have done so without enthusiasm; they either had their arms twisted or felt he was the lesser evil.
Resuming ‘normal life’
“A hot topic is the secret lives of warlords. One notorious governor from a volatile eastern province recently made waves by marrying an air hostess.”
However, much as most TV channels broadcast music videos, or other pleasant diversions, following outbreaks of violence such as Saturday’s suicide attack on NATO’s headquarters in Kabul, Afghans are also trying to get on with life as normal.
Summertime is traditionally the season for weddings and families are scrambling to hold their celebrations before the start of the month of Ramadan, during which observant Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset.
At the exclusive Intercontinental hotel – which is not part of the worldwide franchise – Afghan elites dole out tens of thousands of dollars to host a wedding party to remember.
Live bands churn out ear-splitting music and in some cases both men and women hit the dance floor.
Afghan men are known not to enjoy such events and it is said that in segregated weddings, dinner is served slightly later to the men in order to entice them to stay a bit longer.
By the end of my first three days in Kabul, I had already attended two late-night weddings.
One at the Intercontinental and another in a hall located in what one Afghan terms Kabul’s own Las Vegas, where there are many such halls decorated with flashing colourful lights.
Escorted by her groom, the bride walks in, weighed down by a heavily beaded white gown, to the tune of the traditional ballad Asta Biroo – or “walk slowly”.
They take their seat at the back of the hall and watch as women in their finest sequins and gold jewellery party like it’s 1999.
Such events are an excellent opportunity to catch up on the latest news on the social scene, but most of the gossipping is actually done among the men.
A hot topic is the secret lives of warlords. One notorious governor from a volatile eastern province recently made waves by marrying an air hostess who actually appears in the promotional adverts for her employer.
“Do you think they’ll cancel those ads now?” asks one man.
“Don’t know, but I asked her if she loves him,” replies another, who has met her and cannot believe any educated young woman could really love such a grisly man. “She smiled and said, ‘of course!'”
“She will probably make him buy her property in Dubai and when he gets killed, she will live well,” says the other.
Living well and securing one’s own future at any cost is the order of the day. A similar theme dominates the election campaigns.
It is believed that most of the 40-odd presidential candidates will drop out at the 11th hour in exchange for cash or positions with leading contenders.
There is also talk, even among high-ranking officials, that the elections may be cancelled should voters outside of Kabul – mainly in the volatile south and east of the country – find it impossible to reach polling stations because of violence and intimidation.
One source from the aviation industry reports rumours that the airport may be shut down a couple of days prior to the vote because of security concerns.
But no one knows for sure. No one ever knows anything for sure.
In a country where facts are always blurry, hearsay is solid gold.
And when the future is uncertain, people make the most of the present, taking time to smell the roses, or perhaps, admire the blossoming flowers along the airport road.