Pakistan: Now or Never?

Perspectives on Pakistan

From Afghanistan, the countdown to 2014


The dusty streets of Kabul are choked with traffic, restaurants selling American fast food are bustling and there is a crowd of students and parents outside a girls’ school in the centre of town trying to slip through the shuttered gates at the start of the school year.

Returning to Kabul for the first time since December, there was no sense that the mood on the ground had changed significantly. But I couldn’t help wondering how all this might change once foreign troops who have propped up the Afghan state for more than a decade leave in 2014. There is talk of a return to chaos and civil war, although admittedly you hear more of those grim warnings abroad and in the foreign circles of  Kabul than from the people themselves who will be in the middle of it.

The handover is just two years away, the Taliban have extended their operations in most of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces with many parts no-go areas, and yet it is hard to detect signs of panic. Instead, you see a crowd of women clad in black burqas checking out washing machines in a shop called “Life is Good.”

In large part, perhaps, it is because most do not have a choice. What can an ordinary Afghan struggling to make ends meet really do even if everyone’s telling him or her about a possible civil war ? Where do you go? Pakistan?