Kandahar, it seems, has changed. Felix and I were away for a little over two months, and during that time security conditions in the city have worsened considerably. The threat comes not just from the Taliban -- who are able to carry out occasional prominent operations and move around the city -- but also criminal groups. Kidnappings, robberies, intimidation -- these seem to be par for the course for residents inside the city.
'The surge' is coming, too, and everyone knows it. Some families are sending women and children away, either to Quetta or to Kabul; those who could afford to do so had mostly done this already. Young people who manage to find work or study opportunities outside Kandahar are staying away. "Come back to Kandahar?" said one Kandahari friend of mine now working in Kabul. "You've got to be kidding, right?"
I haven't really had a chance to catch up on what's going on outside the city, let alone what's going on in the districts, but I hope reporting this summer is going to be better than this recent article ("Barrel-chested governor Canada's 250-lb political weapon in Kandahar" by Murray Brewster). Steve Coll's blog post on everyone's favourite brother is a must-read.
I'm knee-deep in research work and reading of my own. On my bed-side table for the coming couple of weeks (ok, I don't have a bed-side table...) are:
Another book I've been dipping into recently is Patrick Porter's Military Orientalism (Hurst, 2009), an excellent take on the way militaries see each other and adapt to their 'enemy'. I haven't yet read the chapter which deals with the Taliban, but I'll be sure to comment here when I do.
The things we're working on have completely filled our plates for the next half year or so: a collection of Taliban 'poems' or songs that we're putting out a translation of next year; a second volume together with Mullah Zaeef on the history of the Taliban movement 1980s-present day that we hope will address all the things everyone said he neglected to mention in the first book; and a large research project for New York University on the extent of links between the Taliban and al Qaeda (and all the various affiliates of both) which tackles everything from the 1970s onwards.