Emma Graham Harrison in Kabul: Kabul property boom confounds fears about Afghanistan's security!
Afghan capital's skyline transformed by luxury high rise buildings as new rich prepare to weather NATO's withdrawal. Two giant concrete pomegranates loom over downtown Kabul, with bright red, 15foot tall seeds bursting from their sides and lit at night with dancing pink lights. The sculptures adorn the top of the orange, silver and blue Pomegranate Towers apartment block, one of the most garishly ostentatious buildings thrown up by Kabul's nouveu riche but also an unlikely token of hope in a city threatened by a tenacious insurgency as foreign troops leave. I get a lot more confidence from looking at these awful buildings. It kills me as an architect, but from an economic pint of view, it seems to be quite a vote of confidence, said Jolyon Leslie, A south African with several decades experience of restoration and urban planning in Afghanistan. Everyone is talking about the tide going out economically, but everyone is still investing in these fancy buildings, they are making a long term bet the city will stay stable enough to earn it back. Builder Faizullah Barakzai's tower, which pays tribute to his hometown of Kandahar, famous for its autumn crop of sweet, juicy pomegranates, is part of a building boom that has transformed the Afghan capital in little more than a decade. Faizullah Barakzai confers with a worker inside the top floor apartment of the Pomegranate Tower. Joel van Houdt for The Guardian: There is a lot of negative propaganda, but I think that eventually the rich Afghans who take money out of the country will regret it, Barakzai said after a tour of his glitzy penthouse suite. Once a sleepy mountain town of low rise homes, Kabul's smartest areas are now a grid of multicolored, multi-storey family family palaces studded with mirrors and stucco, one even boasting a rooftop lion enclosure. The rich gather to celebrate their children's unions at opulent wedding halls, one guarded by golden elephants, another by a looming model of the Eiffel tower. There are bowling alleys, supermarkets crammed with imported clothes and food, and leisure centers with pools and saunas. The lavish lifestyle has been funded by an influx of foreign money, and the proceeds from drugs, which have enriched a tiny elite while most of the country still grapples with desperate poverty, malnutrition, illiteracy and some of the lowest life expectancy in the world. Emzee, a fashion shop at the Majid mall in Shar-e Naw, new city area of Kabul. NATO combat troops will be gone by the end of 2014, and as they head home, spending is shrinking. There is widespread fear that Afghanistan faces economic collapse, a security vacuum and a repeat of the civil war that ripped the country apart in the 1990's.