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A New Day in Kabul
Step into the world of writers and photographers as they tell you about the best, worst, and quirkiest places and adventures they encountered in the field.

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Ancient Capital

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By Edward GirardetPhotographs by Steve McCurry

Children are returning to school. Women are starting businesses. Can the recovery of Afghanistan's weary capital city be sustained?

Get a taste of what awaits you in print from this compelling excerpt.

One only need stand on the mountains overlooking Kabul to grasp the extent of the damage inflicted by war. Entire quarters consist of little more than crumbling walls and collapsed roofs. Factories lie destroyed, warehouses have been looted down to the door frames, and red flags mark the suspected presence of hidden land mines and unexploded ordnance.

Other, more insidious, dangers remain: Recent terrorist attacks in Kabul and elsewhere prove that political violence is an ongoing threat. Also, as returnees pour in, the city’s population is soaring—estimates range from 1.5 to 2.5 million people—and Kabul is barely able to cope. Sewage is simply dumped into water channels, polluting wells. Water shortages, poor hygiene, and piles of garbage are boosting the dangers of cholera and dysentery. Leishmaniasis, an ulcerous skin disease, has become epdemic.

And yet the most immediate impression one has on arrival in Kabul is of exhilaration and confidence. Much of this stems from the holding of the Loya Jirga, or Grand Council, in June, which signaled for most Afghans the beginning of a new era with the election of a broad-based interim government. And though many Afghans, particularly Kabulis, regard the Loya Jirga as rigged, they also view it as the first time in decades that ordinary Afghans were able to express themselves openly.

For countless Afghans Kabul’s renaissance represents a golden opportunity that cannot be squandered. I heard this voiced by Lateef Khalid, a 40-year-old teacher who was preparing to return to Kabul after spending 20 years in Pakistan. "If we don’t resolve our problems now," he said, "then we will have missed a chance that may never come again."

Get the whole story in the pages of National Geographic magazine.

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Steve McCurry talks about changing times in Kabul.

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Online Extra
The Afghan Media and Culture Center helps Afghani journalists find their voices again—men, women, and children.


How far should peacekeeping forces go to maintain stability in Afghanistan? What role should the international community play in rebuilding nations?  Voice your opinion.

More to Explore

In More to Explore the National Geographic magazine team shares some of its best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.

Did You Know?
Accounts of Afghanistan’s recent decades of war usually
begin with the Soviet invasion on the 24th of December, 1979, but the story really begins about a year and a half earlier.

In April 1978 a group of Afghan Marxist military officers overthrew the government of President Mohammad Daoud, who had himself come to power through a coup five years earlier. Within days of the coup the Afghan communist party proclaimed the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan and soon began imposing Soviet-style social and economic reforms, most of which ran counter to Afghan Muslim traditions. Opposition developed quickly, and the government responded with arrests and executions. In September 1978 uprisings began in the eastern part of the country and Afghanistan’s long years of war were under way. Through the winter and into the summer of 1979, insurrection spread across the countryside and within the Afghan Army. The government tried to regain control by increasing its reliance on Soviet weapons, while concurrently trying to keep Soviet political control at a distance. With an uneasy eye on the growing chaos, the Soviet Union began massing troops along the shared border in the autumn of 1979. By mid-December, the situation in Afghanistan had deteriorated to the point that the president had taken refuge in a palace outside Kabul and was being guarded by a small contingent of loyal troops. On December 24 the Soviets invaded.

—Patricia Kellogg

Did You Know?

Related Links
USAID: Helping Afghanistan
The Afghanistan site for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) contains stories and videos about the work being done across Afghanistan as well as fact sheets and a timeline of events.

Embassy of Afghanistan Online
Although some pages of the website of the Embassy of Afghanistan in the United States are still under construction, the site offers solid information on Afghanistan’s history, culture, and government.

UNHCR: The UN Refugee Agency—Return to Afghanistan
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees presents news, maps, photos, and Web links focusing on repatriation and humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan on the World Wide Web Virtual Library
This site presents dozens of links to websites that cover all aspects of Afghan culture, news, and history. An excellent place to start research on Afghanistan.

Educational Resources Focusing on Afghanistan and the Islamic World
Designed as a resource for teachers, this site from the Asian Educational Media Service of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign offers lesson plans along with links to material about Islam and the country of Afghanistan.


Edwards, David B. Before Taliban: Genealogies of the Afghan Jihad. University of California Press, 2002.

Ewers, Martin. Afghanistan: A Short History of Its People and Politics. HarperCollins, 2002.

Hourani, Albert. A History of the Arab Peoples. Harvard University Press, 1991.

Rashid, Ahmed. Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia. Yale University Press, 2000.


NGS Resources
Raimondo, Lois. "Long Road Home: A Story of War and Revelation in Afghanistan," National Geographic (June 2002), 82-105.

Newman, Cathy. "Special Report: A Life Revealed," National Geographic (April 2002).

Belt, Don. The World of Islam. National Geographic Books, 2001.

Girardet, Edward. "Eyewitness Afghanistan," National Geographic (December 2001), 130-37.

"Blown Away in Afghanistan," National Geographic (August 2001), Geographica.

Junger, Sebastian. "The Lion in Winter," National Geographic Adventure (March/April 2001), 76-90,  135-39.

Mackenzie, Richard. "Afghanistan's Uneasy Peace," National Geographic (October 1993), 58-89.

Denker, Debra. "Along Afghanistan's War-torn Frontier," National Geographic (June 1985) 772-97.

Edwards, Mike W. "Kabul, Afghanistan's Troubled Capital," National Geographic (April 1985), 495-505.

Abercrombie, Thomas J. "Islam's Heartland, Up in Arms," National Geographic (September 1984), 334-45.

Williams, Maynard Owen. "Back to Afghanistan," National Geographic (October 1946), 517-44.


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