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Photo by Rianna Pauline Starheim

Rainbow Weather in Kabul

In Afghanistan, kite string is run through crushed-glass powder before it is coiled. Kite strings bite. My instinct when I’m cut is to grab the string tighter. But I have to let go. I’d rather be up with the kites. Catching the wind with the helicopters, the mountains, the birds—warblers, crows, rosefinches, bluethroats, blackbirds, doves.

Milad Ahkabyar's hand-drawn map of his family's route from Afghanistan to Germany. The journey cost them $26,000, which they raised through selling their home, their livestock, jewelry, whatever they could.

Milad’s Arrival

He doesn’t know his birthday, exactly, because the Gregorian calendar is still a puzzle. But he knows his age, more or less, and he knows where he hails from—a village near Ghazni, Afghanistan, which he visits in dreams now and then. Milad Ahkabyar and his family fled their village in the fall of 2015 to escape persecution from the Taliban. 

Digging Out

The miners take turns chopping the coalface. All around us a jury-rigged jumble of tree trunks is wedged against the tunnel’s ceiling, our only protection from being crushed by the five hundred meters of rock between here and the floor of the northern Afghan desert. My claustrophobia mounts with every chunk of coal that dings off my plastic helmet. One miner crouches in the access shaft and shovels coal into an iron railcar. My headlamp catches his face, and I see his teeth are flecked with black.

You Cannot Tell by the Expressions on Our Faces What We Are Feeling

July 6, 2010
A Pakistani security guard sits on a bench next to a fiberglass statue of Ronald McDonald.
A security guard outside the McDonald's in Islamabad. (Copyright Hassan Sulehri)

Islamabad, January–February 2010

The Western diplomat cuts two lines of cocaine on his iPhone and snorts them with a 100 rupee bill.

“Pure Colombian,” he says. “Don’t be shy.”

I shake my head.

“A bit of jet lag I expect?” he says glancing about my room and inquiring about my fourteen-hour flight from the States.

“Some, yes,” I say.

We first met in Afghanistan in 2003. He was a source. We got to know each other and became friends in the way I become friends with people I use for information; constant contact bred familiarity. We remained in touch after he was assigned to Islamabad. I e-mailed him as I prepared for this trip and he agreed to meet me in my guesthouse.

“Tell me, how many bomb attacks in the last year?“ he says tapping the butt of a cigarette against the arm of his chair. “Basically every day somewhere here, somewhere there, two a day at least. They are well trained, they know where to hit. It’s different than Iraq but just as tragic.”

He licks the coke off his iPhone and drops it in his coat pocket.

“Bush was prepared to fight forever and send military in perpetuity. Symbolically, Obama wants this to end by 2012. The civilized world looks at its watches. These guys don’t have watches but they have a hell of a lot of time. Fighting is in their blood. They use a sweet name, Islam, to give their fighting a purpose and to portray the feelings of a society.”

Since I was last here, he explains, the people have become very cautious. Not so long ago they would walk to a park and enjoy a day outside with their children. In the evening, houses filled with visiting family. Now, empty streets reveal a city on edge. Fear prevails. Afghan refugees have become targets of harassment for bringing “their” war to Pakistan. Overcrowded jails make ideal recruiting grounds as fundamentalist inmates mingle with common criminals.


7 Questions for Louie Palu

May 24, 2010

We talk to the documentary photographer and VQR contributor about his coverage of the intense warfare in parts of Afghanistan.

8 Questions for Jason Motlagh

May 14, 2010

The VQR contributor talks about "The Bombing at Bala Baluk," from our current issue, and about the effect that errant US airstrikes are having on the support of the Afghan population.