The provincial government, which is supposed to fill the void left by the departing international forces, has suffered heavily from assassinations. It suffered a double blow in July last year with the killing of Ahmed Wali Karzai, the half-brother of President Hamid Karzai who was seen as the man who made things work in Kandahar, and Ghulam Haider Hamidi, the mayor of the city.
Now, Noorzai says, he can neither get the attention of ministers in Kabul nor trust city officials to do their jobs.
He remembers 2001, when he and others traveled to the capital flying the Afghan flag which had just been reinstated in place of that of the ousted Taliban. ‘‘People were throwing flowers and money on our car, they were so happy to have the Afghan flag flying again,’’ he said.
‘‘When we got power, what did we give them in return? Poverty, corruption, abuse.’’
Mohammad Omer, Kandahar’s current mayor, insists that if people are leaving the city, it is to return to villages they fled in previous years because now security has improved.
Zulmai Hafez disagrees. He has felt like a marked man since his father went to work for the government three years ago, and is too frightened to return to his home in the Panjwai district outside Kandahar city. He refused to have his picture taken or to have a reporter to his home, instead meeting at the city’s media center.
‘‘It’s the Taliban who control the land, not the government,’’ Hafez said. He notes that the government administrator for his district sold off half his land, saying he would not be able to protect the entire farm from insurgents. Many believe the previous mayor was murdered because he went after powerful land barons.
Land reform is badly needed, and the mayor is angry about people who steal land, but he offers no solution. Kandahar only gets electricity about half the day. The mayor says it’s up to the Western allies to fix that. But the foreign aid is sharply down. Aid coming to Kandahar province through the U.S. Agency for International Development, the largest donor, has fallen to $63 million this year from $161 million in 2011, according to U.S. Embassy figures.
The mayor prefers to talk about investing in parks and planting trees. ‘‘I can’t resolve the electricity problem, but at least I can provide a place in the city for people to relax,’’ he said.
The only people thinking long-term appear to be the Taliban.
‘‘The Americans are going and the Taliban need the people’s support, so they are trying to avoid attacks that result in civilian casualties,’’ said Noor Agha Mujahid, a member of the Taliban shadow government for Kandahar province, where he oversees operations in a rural district. ‘‘After 2014 ... it will not take a month to take every place back.’’
One of the biggest worries is the fate of women who have made strides in business and politics since the ouster of the Taliban.
‘‘What will these women do?’’ asked Ehsanullah Ehsan, director of a center that trains more than 800 women a year in computers, English and business. It was at his center where Anita Taraky studied before switching to nursing.
‘‘Even if the Taliban don’t come back, even if the international community just leaves, there will be fewer opportunities for women,’’ he said.
On the outskirts of the city stands one of the grandest projects of post-Taliban Kandahar — the gated community of Ayno Maina with tree-lined cement homes, wi-fi and rooftop satellite dishes.
Khan, the departing businessman, says he bought bought 10 lots for $66,000 in Ayno Maina and has yet to sell any of them despite slashing the price,
He recalled that when he first went to the project office it was packed with buyers. ‘‘Now it is full of empty houses. No one goes there,’’ Khan said.
Only about 15,000 of the 40,000 lots have been sold, and 2,400 homes built and occupied, according to Mahmood Karzai, one of the development’s main backers and a brother of President Karzai. He argues, however, that prices are down all over Afghanistan, and that Ayno Maina is still viable, provided his brother gets serious about reform that will attract investors.
‘‘Afghanistan became a game,’’ he said over lunch at the Ayno Maina office. ‘‘The game is to make money and get the hell out of here. That goes for politicians. That goes for contractors.’’
He shrugged off allegations that he skimmed money from Ayno Maina, saying the claims were started by competitors in Kabul who assume everyone who is building something in Afghanistan is also stealing money.
He said the money went where it was needed: to Western-style building standards and security.Continued...