I am on my way to Afghanistan, my ninth visit there since 2004. Unfortunately, it is only Indian Airlines that fly to Kabul from India, from New Delhi at 07:45 AM. So for me, living in Mumbai, it is a night in New Delhi; no big deal except for the hassle. The flight to Kabul itself is uneventful, the usual mixture of mostly businessmen and security personal on the flight. Astonishingly, it lands on the minute, at exactly 08:45AM Kabul time; some of the better known and classier airlines need a time management lesson or two from IA.
The immigration officer makes an error on the stamp he thumps on the passport, realizes the date is yesterdays and glares at me as if I am at fault. He then hee humms, scanning pages within the passport, as if looking for a solution for his mistake, furiously scratches his scalp cap and finally decides to just correct the error by hand. Happy with the solution, he grins at me, revealing a missing tooth, blows garlic fumes at me, hands me my passport and jerks his head, indicating I can go.
If you think your city is polluted, visit Kabul; I feel, see, smell, and taste it immediately our vehicle enters the very heavy chaotic traffic on the streets. My throat contracts, eyes water and breathing is more labored within five minutes on the street. Nothing new, things have definitely not changed.
What has changed in Kabul this time is the element of fear; it is everywhere. It is in the air, in the shifty eyes of policemen who man security checkpoints all over the city, in the attitude of hotel staff and even the man on the streets. We get stopped three times going to our hotel and then twice again when we drive towards Chandawaal. Kabul is like a fortress now, my every movement scrutinized and controlled.
Herat, near the Iranian border to the West is a little better and I get to relax a little bit; short lived as I return to Kabul in two days for my return trip to New Delhi / Mumbai. Our Engineer Basheer drives me to the airport early, just in case. Good thinking, for security is blocking entrance to the airport, no cars allowed in, no exceptions. I have to walk two kilometers, lugging by bags with wheels. I have to hurry; I have little time for pity towards others who are still figuring out how to get to the terminal with loads of luggage and children and the old.