Welcome to "new" Afghanistan. The paved road linking Kabul to Kandahar looks an easy highway to travel but the seven-hour journey is punctuated by moments of fear. The driver of our brand-new white Corolla presses the accelerator past 150km/h as the 80km/h speed-limit sign speeds by. "You never know when the Taliban choose to attack," he says. A native of Kandahar, he's been driving for 20 years without a licence. Then he slows down to 130km/h as a long convoy of trucks and cars appears ahead.
I'm fearful we are going to crash. But my driver weaves his way through the trucks and cars, driving on the unpaved shoulder, risking the oncoming traffic. As we reach the beginning of the line, he laughs triumphantly. We don't even stop at the checkpoint where a soldier is also laughing. " What a run, good for you," he shouts as we speed on.
This is Midan Shar, 40km west of Kabul, once part of a military belt around the capital which the then Afghan Communist government created to prevent the mujahedin from reaching the city. It delayed them, but did not stop them. And it's not working now because the Taliban are sending suicide bombers to Kabul. This is where Taliban territory begins and it's a place of mayhem. A young Afghan man, dressed in US Special Forces outfit and flak-jacket, his ID card hanging over his chest, is helplessly trying to establish order amid the traffic. Down the road, we find an oil tanker in flames. "The Taliban attack the oil tankers because they carry fuel for the Americans," my driver says. I lift the veil of my green burka to watch from the back seat. Green is the colour of Kandahar burkas. And I'm an Afghan after all, able to speak the local languages but still chilled by the moment a few hours ago when I had to leave my precious Canadian passport behind in Kabul. Canadian troops are now fighting the Taliban in Kandahar. I dare not be associated with my adopted country.
As we pass more Afghan soldiers, my driver smirks. "Don't let the uniforms fool you," he says. "The old guards - yesterday's mujahedin and Taliban - are today's security forces. Give the guards 3,000 afghanis [about £40] and they'll not only wave you through but they'll tell you the way to avoid further checkpoints."
Our politicians pontificate about victory in Afghanistan, but the supposedly defeated Taliban have returned with a vengeance. They stop cars, ambush military vehicles and target those working for the government or aid agencies. Just this week, Safia Ama Jan, a friend of mine - a former teacher who started the Women's Centre in Kandahar - was murdered. She told me only a few days ago that she had been receiving death threats.
From Kabul to Kandahar, we count four burning tankers, seven army checkpoints and just three police patrols. It's a poor display of force and no one in Kandahar believes that Nato will be able to stop the Taliban. This highway was meant to be a gift from President George W Bush, a gesture of kindness from the "liberating" superpower. But now its surface is broken, the Tarmac often covered with sand, a symbol of our failure and broken hopes.
Pazira is a Canadian writer, film-maker and journalistReuse content