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February 26, 2003

REPORT FROM AFGHANISTAN: Things aren't so bad:

Many of those perceived troubles are real and worrisome, and nobody would mistake Kabul for a prosperous and peaceful city. Sections are still in ruins, and many of the 600,000 returning refugees who have flooded the city live precariously on the margins. Islamic militants remain determined to destabilize and oust the Karzai government through violence, and periodic attacks continue. There is also concern that the flashier developments could offend conservative Afghan attitudes and create a dangerously wide divide between the relatively rich and the very poor.

But whatever the risks, the Kabul of today is almost unrecognizable as the austere city ruled not long ago by the Taliban -- or as the place where warring Islamic militias demolished neighborhood after neighborhood, or where Soviets presided over a rebellious socialist state. . . .

In a city that had a handful of shopworn eating places two years ago, a new Chinese or Italian or American hamburger restaurant opens almost weekly, as well as kebab shops by the score. Small hotels have sprung up, and a $40 million Hyatt is on the way. The food bazaars are bustling and there are downtown blocks filled almost entirely with bridal shops. Rebuilt homes are rising from the ruins, and every little storefront seems to be stuffed with bathtubs or fans or with men building and carving things to be sold.

There's a lot that should still be done -- but remember, we didn't start the Marshall Plan until after World War II was thoroughly over. This war is still underway.