There is money in Kabul: Honestly or dishonestly acquired, the presence of an obscene amount of money is clearly evident no matter where one looks and, under the circumstances, it is pertinent to wonder where on earth it is coming from. Welcome to the Land of the Brave reads the slogan predominantly placed on the faade of the tastefully designed new airport terminal which, on first impression, puts any airport building in Pakistan to shame, as do the coolly efficient immigration police - male and female - in their immaculately clean and pressed camouflage blue uniforms, each individual, staff and arriving passenger, impeccably mirrored in the spotless, polished floor although, as tends to be the case in the majority of subcontinental airports, a visit to the restrooms is to be avoided if you value your health The briskly sanitised atmosphere persists through baggage reclaim where polite porters wait in line to be hired, and right out into the uncluttered parking lot, this being at a distance for security reasons, where it is necessary to hunt for a taxi, rather than run the gauntlet of pestering drivers as is the norm here. And it is in the parking lot that the first indication of general wealth makes its presence known as, again quite unlike Pakistan, a high percentage of vehicles fall into the distinctly upmarket bracket with those remaining belonging to the 'average class, not the 'held together by a wish and a promise category so visible on this side of the Durand Line. There are an estimated half a million private vehicles in this burgeoning city of six million people, the latter figure sliding up and down depending on statistical source, and it appears that at least 50 percent of them are of the 'fully loaded land cruiser type - with the term 'fully loaded including gun totting guards outfitted in khaki whose professionalism it is wise not to question. Despite the absence of ancient vehicles belching toxic exhaust fumes, air quality in the city is extremely poor: A mere 17 percent of the atmosphere is oxygen, the remainder a noxious mix of goodness knows what, emanating from goodness knows where, and which is a perpetual headache for the enthusiastic, if currently ineffective, Environmental Protection Agency that faces an uphill struggle in attempting to cope with the myriad problems on hand. The city, a lunar landscape of bombed out buildings when I last visited it seven years ago, has been and continues to be rebuilt at an amazing pace with the tasteless opulence of massive private homes, especially in the 'exclusive areas of Wazir Akbar Khan and Qari Fatiullah, emulating similar monstrosities in the cities of Pakistan from where they look to have been transplanted. Apartment blocks, too, are rising phoenix-like from the ashes of pre-war Kabul and while construction materials are undoubtedly skimped on, the overall impression is one of a richness whose source is far from easy to trace. True to say that there are also many city outskirts, which look as if they have been standing since the Middle Ages, although in reality they are of relatively recent arrival, these being of traditional mud brick construction and cramped together out of necessity. These katchi abadis for want of a better term, are predominantly inhabited by ethnic Hazaras and Panjsheris from who a sizeable percentage of household servants, general labourers and others of a similar kind are drawn and who are not, by any stretch of the imagination, members of the moneyed class. As in any other city around the world, social categories range the whole gamut from the very rich to the extremely poor with, for now at least, an upwardly mobile middle class balancing the scales: Living costs are high, much higher than in Pakistan and salaries in no way allow for the luxury goods in the market so where do people find the cash to live as they do? It is no good pointing in the direction of foreign troops and aid agencies as being the possible source of this largesse although they are largely, not solely responsible for the incredible profits amassed by enterprising restaurateurs who have invested astronomical amounts of money in establishing the kind of exclusive eateries one rarely finds even in the West and which, in this the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, boast the presence of pork products and alcohol on their menus. Foreign donors are heavily involved in the massive reconstruction of a country, which is still heavily engaged in civil war and associated strife and, undoubtedly, they have created employment in the process. But much of this employment has been taken up by Pakistani labourers, who are cheaper to hire than their Afghan counterparts, therefore, yet again, such projects are unlikely to be a major source of visible wealth and it does not come, at least not on such a widespread scale, from the ever thriving drug market, as this is controlled by a very few powerful individuals indeed. Kabul is, on the surface at least and totally unlike the rest of this beleaguered country, a thriving hub of lucrative business. But what this business is remains a mystery to far more people than the writer alone although no doubt the secret will eventually be revealed. The writer is author of The Gun Tree: One Womans War (Oxford University Press, 2001) and lives in Bhurban. Email: