Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Pomegranates, dust, rose gardens and war

By Sean Maguire
October 19, 2009

s1On a hilltop in central Kabul, the relics of Soviet armoured vehicles sit in the shadow of an incongruously vast and empty swimming pool. A tower of diving boards looks down into the concrete carcass built by the Russians. Boys play football there and on Fridays the basin is used for dog fights; combat is the only option for the canine gladiators, as they cannot climb up the sheer, steep sides. From the vantage point you can see the city’s graveyards, its bright new mosques, the narco-palaces of drug-funded business potentates and the spread of modest brick homes where most Kabulis live. It’s a favourite spot for reporters when they need to escape the press of urgent events and get cleaner air in their lungs. 

For years journalists have sought to tell stories that go beyond the conflict in Afghanistan. We’ve tried to portray this country – the crossroads of central Asia, the summer home of Moghul emperors, the cockpit of clashing empires – as more than a place of blood, deprivation and extremism. Amid the dust and the heat it has its oases of tranquility, its laughter and its charms. From the market stalls of sweet pomengranates that line the road in autumn to the rose gardens newly planted in central Kabul, Afghanistan is a place of thorny history, cultural complexity and spartan beauty.

Alas, we cannot ignore the warfare. Great journalistic energy has to go into counting the casualties, Kabul girl with barrowexplaining the violence and charting the shifting strategies of the combatants. It’s a conflict whose outcome is uncertain. The bullets and bombs tear through the flesh of ordinary Afghans, fanatical insurgents and Western soldiers with equal awfulness. A blast takes the life of a child, deprives a wife of a husband and faintly furthers some cause. The impact is immediate and local, but it reverberates harshly in Washington, Delhi, London or Paris.

Can we weave together the warp of war and the weft of daily life in Afghanistan? Yes, in this blog, we hope is the answer. In the tradition of the region’s richly patterned carpets, it will be both intricate and stoutly structured, minutely detailed and expansive in scale.

It will gather the impressions, observations and thoughts of our correspondents, video journalists and photographers in Afghanistan, whether they be in Kabul, on embedded assignments with different military units or travelling independently. Infrequent visitors like myself, just returned from Kabul, will contribute. I went to assess the mood, interview officials and see how our large journalistic operation is run. The blog will link our teams in Washington, London, Brussels, Delhi and Islamabad, bringing to bear a unique array of perspectives on the Afghan story.Afghan patrol passes girls

It should be an intelligent, lively and useful addition to the words, images and video that Reuters already produces to illustrate this dynamic, significant and absorbing story. The blog won’t be complete without your views. Please contribute your comments and become part of the debate on the future of Afghanistan. Be partisan if you wish, but kindly remain pleasant.

Welcome to ‘The Afghan Journal.’

[Reuters pictures of diving boards at an empty Kabul swimming pool,a girl on a street and soldiers passing by another ]


Sean Maguire,
It was about somebody came up with intelligent idea, Afghanistan has been suffering from a lot of wounds, some old others are new. Looking at any aspect of a healthy society, from the basic rights like education to economy and so on, everywhere there are sufferings; people are disappointed with their government, NATO and the whole of the west. When American and their allies ousted the Taliban, they had a fresh hope and desire for peace, prosperity and success, but eight years on, I have heard many times on the streets of Kabul, people wishing for the Taliban not to have left, the only and the most important thing they provided people with, was the security, looting, kidnapping, drug dealing and stealing were all unfamiliar words, but now all these have become a culture, the strong gets stronger and wealthier and the poor are becoming poorer and weaker day by day.
Most Taliban are not at all Taliban, they one disappointed with this fake and failed democracy. A friend of mine wanted to get a passport a few days ago, he had to bribe the guarding police officer to gain entry, when inside the passport office he was told they have run out of passports, until he found somebody who was asking for 5000 Afghanis = 100 USD plus the costs for the passport. That’s how common the corruption has become.
Looking at the recent election marred by fraud and vote rigging, people are not hopeful for a good future, both front runner have been accused of rigging votes in areas they were able to, none of them have the ability or willingness to lead this war torn country toward prosperity, the government seats right down to the managerial positions have been sold off in deals for votes.

Posted by Siddiq | Report as abusive

This should be challenging to say the least. Good luck!

Posted by bob marcy | Report as abusive

This blog is important and it is hoped a more genuine picture be painted of the situation in Afghanistan.How can we get an honest election in a country awash with so much corruption,bad behavior,disrespect for human rights,religious fanaticism,brutality,child molestation,and etc,etc.??Yes,this is a very difficult job ,but we must draw the line somewhere.The US/NATO must tell the Afghans seeking power that election fraud will not be tolerated at all and this must be very convincing to these Afghans.In this general area including Iran and cental Asia where elections have been fraudulent,the Karzai regime figured they can win elections any way they wish and get away with it just like in Iran.So that the sacrifice of all the soldiers and people is not in vain,it is critical that we must not only insist on credible elections but also to bring to justice those who resort to fraud.In this way,firm and unyielding on corruption,will we see success in Afghanistan.

Posted by Zartosht Ariana | Report as abusive

Afghanistan’s people, their politics and culture have suffered for a long time.
Every country and culture have a beautiful story to tell when you cut through the ugliness.. as all human stories do.
Unfortunately some people find themselves born into an area of particular ugliness due to the politics of power. Afghanistan is just one of those stories.

Their land is geo-politically of great value to others and they sit on a great wealth of natural gas and other undeveloped resources such as gold.
As far as I’m aware the country’s last real chance to evolve was back in the 80′s, through the democratically elected popular government of president Taraki. This was the first real people’s government Afghanistan had had for a long time if at all. The ruling party was socialist and an ally of the Soviet Union.
That was to be their last chance, as the US was busy training, arming and financing terrorists in the mountains to attack this democracy and in scenes reminiscent of Sauron arming the militias of Mordor “take back” their lands, or the words of now top Obama adviser and geo-political strategist Brezinski, “your cause is right and god is on your side!”. (video- EM )
The soviets were invited by the people’s democracy to help defend the state against terror and a US backed coup, and unfortunately could not defeat the US backed insurgency.
After the coup, the people of Afghanistan were essentially left to fend for themselves among brutal drug and war lords and terrorist extremists, created by the US, some of whom later became the Taliban and the others formed Al Qaeda, both terrorizing the nation for the next 10 years and counting all because socialist democracy could not be tolerated at any cost.

Is this not historical fact?

If you are hearing this for the first time it should tell you how much those in the media really care about the people of Afghanistan.
If you want to provide a tribute to the people of Afghanistan tell the world their history!

Posted by brian | Report as abusive

The most important thing for journalists who want to make a difference to the reading public is to be clear-eyed. Understanding Afghanistan is not helped by pro forma efforts at “balance” — to show positives that are relatively meaningless (the beauty of green-eyed girls and the mythic rose gardens, are they even still there?) — if the 800-lb gorilla in the room is an inevitable future of dominance by brutal religious bullies and opium magnates, neither remotely interested in functioning democratic political processes. Is that in fact Afghanistan’s future? (One can admire the iridescence of an oil slick, but it’s still an oil slick.) Please try to quantify as much as possible the status of indicators that things are getting better or worse. Maps with blog entries would help readers understand whether the territory is becoming pacified or the opposite (and where). What other signs of hope? Middle class stability (or flight)? Appearance of professional classes (or not)? Returning diaspora (or not)? Quiet patronage by “sister” states (e.g. are Gulf states or some others with a sense of solidarity taking it upon themselves to train Afghan civil engineers) — or not? Medical care? Media? Any sign of people (young men) getting sick of the fighting (or not)? Please refrain from the forced lyricism of rose gardens and pomegranates; unless these are playing a notable role in the larger Afghan economy or are implying the presence of stable middle class gardeners, this is just fluff that we can get from forty year-old National Geographics.

Posted by A Boone | Report as abusive

karzai has already admitted the scourge of
corruption in an interview on CNN.If he wants
to win favor he must start a war on bribery
and corruption immediately.He now has time and breathing space coupled with speedy
justice for a mountain of pending judicial
court cases.above all a firm promise to continue with severe penalties. crpatel


Brian,congratulation,you have brought to light an aspect of Afghan history which all immoral powers have tried hard to bury it in the dustbin of history.Yes,as Brian’s post shows,Afghan people,the ordinary Afghans ,not the Afghan warlords,druglords,Afghans sold out to Arabs,Iranians,Pakistanis and other foreigners, became free under the socialist democrats.Alas,this freedom was very short as it was murdered by the immoral powers calling themselves the vanguard of freedom.This is why these powers are now paying the price.

Posted by Zartosht Ariana | Report as abusive

Kudos to Reuters and Mr Maguire for launching what could become a stabilizing force for the Afghan people.

Please respect your readers enough to avoid going down rabbit trails in any attempt to portray one world power as better than another in the long sordid Afghan past.

The world has failed Afghanistan as it failed others.

What we need to know and see are the true costs of that failure in human and Geo-political terms. Do this please
and you will have accomplished more than other countries.


The world MEDIA has failed Afghanistan.
What better path to healing than admission by the world corporate media that they have not been honest in detailing Afghanistan’s history.
Why am I still hearing of the Soviet INVASION???
This is absolutely historically false, they were there for the protection of the democratic state, by the request of the Afghan government.
This needs to be recognized before anyone in modern media has the credibility to speak for Afghans.
We have the explanation for what happened to Afghanistan, now what is the solution? So far it has been to create a global war on terrorism in response to the very Islamic fundamentalism created by the US back when they attacked Afghan democracy.
I think we need to think twice before we answer the question of how to ‘WIN’ in Afghanistan because if the country that sought to destroy democracy yesterday in Afghanistan is the victor, what have we won?

The US has already won in Afghanistan back in the 80s, democracy was defeated and the country left in ruins.
Tell people the truth!

Posted by brian | Report as abusive

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