Meraj, my interpreter, and Habib, the driver, pick me up for my first day of reporting at 8am sharp. [The driver side of our banged-up white-and-yellow Toyota Corolla is on the left, as opposed to cars in India and Pakistan as well as the two taxis I took the previous evening. It's a reminder that Afghanistan was never colonized, not by the British or anyone else. The two types seem about equally common, and nobody seems to mind that steering wheels can be on the left or right but all cars drive on the right side of the street.] We head in the direction of the refugee camp swelling on the western edge of the Afghan capital and I, ever curious, start asking about the Taliban.
“We were all women under the Taliban,” Meraj tells me. A handsome 28-year-old who's worked for the World Bank and USAID – he's a clear beneficiary of their toppling. “Nobody had all of the freedoms that they should have, whether under Islam or not. Right now I have no beard. If this was Taliban time they would pick me up and throw me in jail until I had a beard, probably about 2-3 weeks.”
Habib, who spent much of the Taliban years in Pakistan, in the Swat Valley, has a different take. “We had security then,” he says, before speaking about the Taliban directly. “During that time they did nothing wrong, but now they are killing innocent people in mosques and schools. This is not right.” Nor does the burly, bearded driver much care for his president. “Karzai's good, but not as good as we wanted him to be,” Habib says.
Afghanis seem to think of Hamid Karzai the same way Americans used to view Musharraf. “He's not a great president,” a staffer at Roshan, Afghanistan's largest telecom, tells me as I purchase a SIM card, “but others would be worse.” On my flight into Afghanistan my neighbor, a young jeweler named Naveed, says, “he's good but he could be better.”
Back in the Corolla we're crawling at a snail's pace. “Look at these roads!” rages Habib as we slowly roll in and out of golf cart-sized craters on our way back into the city. “What kind of president is he if he can't even rebuild our capital!”