Jim Wildman, NPR
Istalif's hillside homes have stunning views of both the Hindu Kush Mountains and the Shomali Plain, north of Kabul. For tourists, it has become a popular destination for weekend picnics. For residents, it has become a safe place to prosper.
Jim Wildman, NPR
Abdul Wahkeel's pottery business has grown since NPR reported from the village in 2002. His workshop used to be inside his home. Now, he has this new kiln, a new place to work, and a popular storefront in the bazaar. Wahkeel's neighborhood will have electricity in a couple of weeks.
Abdul Wahkeel's pottery business has grown since NPR reported from the village in 2002. His workshop used to be inside his home. Now, he has this new kiln, a new place to work, and a popular storefront in the bazaar. Wahkeel's neighborhood will have electricity in a couple of weeks. Jim Wildman, NPR
Tom Bullock, NPR
Wahkeel, seen at work in 2002.
Renee Montagne's earlier reports from Afghanistan:
Istalif and the Shomali Plain are just north of Kabul.
Istalif and the Shomali Plain are just north of Kabul. NPR
Five years after the invasion of U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, the Taliban has been making a comeback in the country's south. But in the north, at least one village known for its colorful pottery has found peace and prosperity.
Renee Montagne returns to Istalif, a place she reported on in 2002, six months after the fall of the Taliban regime. The village is an hour north of Kabul — up a mountain road above the vast, fertile Shomali Plain, which, at the time, was a ruined place.
The people there had fought alongside the Northern Alliance. And when the Taliban finally took hold in the late 1990s, they burned homes, schools, vineyards, orchards — and killed anyone who didn't flee. People there said the Taliban even killed the songbirds in their cages.
Istalif was especially fragile, because it was famous for its pottery. When I first came to Istalif, the streets were crunchy with smashed pottery.
Today the streets are lined with pottery shops. One of those shops belongs to Abdul Wahkeel, who was the very first one in Istalif to start throwing pots again.
In 2002, Wahkeel was using a small kiln in his home, caring for his wife and four children plus a sister-in-law and niece because one of his brothers was killed by the Taliban. He was having problems getting his pots to market because the roads were poor.
Now the roads are no longer a problem, he says, except for when they flood in winter. And, thanks to foreign aid, electricity is expected to be available in the village within a week or two.
A small, new hydroelectric power plant now perches along the river that rushes past the village, courtesy of South Korea.
Germany built the school where boys 7 to 22 come to learn. Those older boys — young men really — had been yanked out of school years ago when they fled with their families.
Abdul Qahar is the principal. On NPR's last visit to Istalif, his pupils were reciting their grammar from wooden benches in the open schoolyard.
"In 2002, we didn't have anything," he says. "This school [was] just a couple of tents."
Qahar says the village's relative safety is due to the people and their labor skills.
"Every one of them has skills in one field or one craft," he says. "This is something that supports peace and security because people work in a peaceful environment."
The link between the lack of jobs, the development that could create those jobs and violence is much talked about in Afghanistan.
In Istalif — long a prosperous village set among graceful farms and vineyards — the jobs simply came back.
First, the tea house and the potter. Then the barber, the tailor and carpenter. Soon, the pharmacy opened its clean, white doors on the corner. Now, stalls and shops offering bread, hardware and scarves line the main street.