On a gray winter morning in 1999, I stood on a sidewalk in downtown Kabul. The city was deserted, emptied by war and fear. Occasionally, a pickup truck careened by, carrying turbaned men with rifles who shouted at stragglers late for afternoon prayers. Otherwise, the only sounds were the click of bicycle spokes and the clip-clop of horse-drawn carts, carrying piles of wilted cauliflower or scavenged cardboard.
In half-abandoned neighborhoods, old cement and mud-brick walls were crumbling and pocked with bullet holes. Ragged families had made camp in ruined houses, hanging sheets across doorways and setting up cookstoves amid rubble. Children peered out for an instant, then quickly drew back into the shadows. There were no women in sight.
As a journalist