“In the blue haze of hookah smoke that filled Kandahar’s Cafe Delight on a recent weekend afternoon, it was easy to forget there’s a war outside.”

Young male professionals with well-groomed beards and mullet cuts, slumped in plush chairs, sipped espresso drinks beneath flat-screens that pulsed with racy Turkish and Indian music videos, the bare midriffs of women blurred by channel censors.

This was still Afghanistan, a conservative Islamic society. But the patrons belonged to a more permissive, urbane generation that came of age after the fall of the Taliban, with vague to no memory of the oppressive, fundamentalist regime, born in this southern city, that banned television, music, and cinema; forbade men from trimming their beards; and forced women to wear head-to-toe burkas.

Café owner Ahmadullah Akbari returned from two years in cosmopolitan Dubai in 2018 to start his business in Ayno Maina, a sprawling modern development on the outskirts of Kandahar. Behind the café counter a few months ago, Akbari monitored closed-circuit TV cameras he had recently installed to thwart “sticky bombs”—crude explosives triggered by mobile phones—that were targeting officials, activists, minorities, and journalists, as well as random civilians, part of the extremists’ strategy to eliminate dissent and project fear deep into urban centers. Emboldened by a February 2020 agreement with the United States that sidelined the Afghan government and paved the way for the withdrawal of American forces by the end of August this year, the Taliban had established their grip on rural areas and were closing in on cities at breathtaking speed.

Still, with its eucalyptus-lined streets, luxury villas, and shopping plazas lit by nearly round-the-clock electricity, the Ayno Maina gated community offered an atmosphere of suburban normalcy for middle- and upper-class Afghans, many on a government payroll. “We have no worries here,” said Suleiman Aryan, 28, an English teacher who works and lives in the complex with his wife and two children.

That was then. The calm has been shattered.


As the Taliban return, Afghanistan’s past threatens its future

The freedoms Afghans have gained since 2001 are in jeopardy as extremists complete their takeover of the nation, spurred by U.S. exit. (National Geograpic)

In another world in the same country.

Haji Adam, a tribal elder on the Taliban-controlled side of the river, said, “For 20 years the whole world came and money poured in, but how did it help us? If the water was in our control … if there was electricity, we would have products instead of war. If the roads were paved, there would not be so much destruction.” Instead, “nothing significant has been built” in Kandahar since the Taliban were ousted in 2001, he asserted. The region’s only large-scale hospital, he noted, was built by the Chinese in the 1970s.

Instead they have this.

Reconstruction and security contracts were controlled by warlords and elites who fed patronage networks along ethnic, tribal, and family lines. According to Integrity Watch Afghanistan, an anti-corruption nonprofit, nearly all major contracts still go to people with close ties to officials. “By now we should have institutions,” says Rahmatullah Amiri, a security analyst from Kandahar. “Instead we have individuals.”

And consider this.

A top-down culture of corruption fueled by foreign money has had an exceptionally damaging effect on police. “If a police station needs 15 officers, there are only three; the rest of the money is stolen,” said Ahmadi, the former district governor in Kandahar Province.

Poorly equipped, police also are widely loathed for shaking down people to make up for unpaid salaries and scarce supplies. “The Taliban don’t provide any services, and they don’t build houses or clinics, but they do not steal,” asserted Abdullah Jan, an unemployed farmer who fled Arghandab, echoing a common refrain among rural Afghans.

How it developed so fast. Althouse quotes from the WP.

Was it surprisingly few? This Washington Post article — “Afghanistan’s military collapse: Illicit deals and mass desertions” — gives the impression that there was skillful, sustained, widespread deal-making by the Taliban —”a series of deals brokered in rural villages between the militant group and some of the Afghan government’s lowest-ranking officials”:

The deals, initially offered early last year, were often described by Afghan officials as cease-fires, but Taliban leaders were in fact offering money in exchange for government forces to hand over their weapons, according to an Afghan officer and a U.S. official. Over the next year and a half, the meetings advanced to the district level and then rapidly on to provincial capitals, culminating in a breathtaking series of negotiated surrenders by government forces, according to interviews with more than a dozen Afghan officers, police, special operations troops and other soldiers.

Within a little more than a week, Taliban fighters overran more than a dozen provincial capitals and entered Kabul with no resistance, triggering the departure of Afghanistan’s president and the collapse of his government. Afghan security forces in the districts ringing Kabul and in the city itself simply melted away….

Read at Althouse.