After dark, the streets of Kabul are deserted, left only to packs of wild dogs and the occasional tank which scatters them yapping into the night as it rumbles to a new position. Those people who still have homes to go to stay indoors, but they are hardly safe. Above the roof tops heavy machine-gun tracer, glowing red and blue scream down from the central hills into the south-west of the city. Every few minutes the popping of small arms and the heavy clump of artillery shatter the stillness. Then a screaming whistle announces another haphazard rocket attack. For long moments, we listen and pray it will not be our house to night. Then the salvo explodes, not far enough away, and, as shrapnel spatters on the roof, we silently thank god it was someone else this time, as the delayed shock-wave shakes the foundations of the house. Like the 250-kilogram bombs dropped by fighter bombers, the rockets rarely find their targets. Just another night in Kabul.
Fifteen minutes later in another quarter of the city, the wounded are being carried into Jamhuriate Hospital. What is left of a black Chamise covers the remains of a 17-year-old girl both her legs have been blown off. What remains is blackened skin flayed off the bone. Mercifully, she is unconscious, her face oblivious to her tragedy. Later, I spoke to to the doctor who treated her. “Her family told me to let her die. They are right – if she lives, she will have no life in Afghanistan. But we will do what we can. On the heaviest nights, as many as 40 such casualties are taken to the hospital – in taxis, on tanks or on simple litters. It is one of four hospitals functioning in the capital, but they all lack medicines and supplies. “It’s like we were operating a field hospital in World War one,” said the doctor.
Through the day there are lulls in the fighting, and you could easily mistake the crowded streets for those of any other central Asian city. The doctor, Nazrab Shar, showed me the centre and we strolled through the streets in the autumn sunshine. Despite the blockade on the city, the stalls are crammed with all manner of produce, including local tomatoes, Danish biscuits, Toblerone and Johnnie Walker Black Label whisky – all at vastly inflated prices. The intersections are jammed with battered Mercedes-Benz and ancient Ladas, each blasting their horns as they manoeuvre around tanks and armoured personnel carriers. On each corner we pass groups of teenage boys, some leaning against their RPGs, the spare rockets are handy batons against the populace. Others swagger into the street to question an unlucky passer-by, their fingers loosely on the triggers of their casually slung Kalashnikovs. They are easily disarmed by a Westerner’s smile. Just metres away, these boys, more often than not stoned on hashish, fight the battle for Kabul and fill the gangs that terrorize and extort the unarmed population.