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DailyTidings.com
  • Afghanistan's new generation

    Modern, ambitious ... and maybe a little naive?
  • KABUL, Afghanistan — Behind the thick walls of one of Kabul's newest districts, Tooba Hotak practices driving her parents' Mercedes in a parking lot lined with cream-colored apartment buildings.
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  • KABUL, Afghanistan — Behind the thick walls of one of Kabul's newest districts, Tooba Hotak practices driving her parents' Mercedes in a parking lot lined with cream-colored apartment buildings.
    The car lurches as she tries shifting gears, but the 16-year-old drives on, past a cluster of stores and a playground full of children chasing one another in the snow.
    Later, she slips into a pair of fluffy slippers for a chemistry class in her family's plush living room.
    Tooba is being home-schooled in the British education system. She hopes to go to college and become an engineer. Marriage, children — "that's not so important," she says.
    Like many middle-class Kabul residents of her generation, Tooba lived most of her life abroad. She wasn't born yet when Soviet forces pulled out of the country in 1989, unleashing a civil war that eventually gave rise to the Taliban and drove her family into exile in China.
    They returned after the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 to a city that had shaken off the most rigid strictures of the Islamic militants' rule, which denied girls an education and kept them largely confined to their homes.
    Although large parts of the population still struggle to survive in overcrowded slums, these teens and young adults live in modern apartments, shop at Western-style malls and supermarkets, swap text messages on their cellphones, celebrate weddings at neon-decked halls and are connected to the world through television, movies and the Internet.
    Tooba doesn't worry about what her life might look like after the departure of most U.S. and allied foreign troops next year.
    "It will be the same," she says, nibbling a date. "This is a dangerous place for Americans, but not for Afghans."
    Her tutor, Naela, looks up from her laptop. "You think you will be driving after the Taliban come?" snaps the teacher, who, like many Afghans, uses one name.
    "They will kill you," she says, running a finger across her neck.
    Young Afghans such as Tooba belong to a small but growing class of professionals, business owners and civil servants, a manifestation, in part, of the influx of foreign aid, investment and personnel that has accompanied Western military intervention.
    Educated and ambitious, they may represent their nation's best hope for a stable future.
    Those too young to remember the Taliban may exhibit a blithe confidence, but others are worried, some to the point of making plans to leave, all too aware of the dangers that lie ahead.
    Aria City, the north Kabul district where Tooba lives with her parents and two sisters, is one of several gated communities catering to white-collar Afghans, offering such prized amenities as central heating and air conditioning, round-the-clock running water and private guards.
    Beyond the quiet, tree-lined lanes where Tooba practices driving, honking cars jostle for space on rutted, muddy streets with armored convoys, rickety bicycles, donkey carts and vendors. Designed to be largely self-sufficient, the housing development has its own playground, school, stores, restaurant and mosque.
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