The Dari word qachaqbar means ‘the one with illicit goods’, but when I hear it in Kabul I don’t think of drugs or arms but people. Afghans have been leaving since the Soviet invasion in the 1970s, but after 2014, when foreign troops pulled out, the leaving changed pace: in 2015, more than 200,000 Afghans left for Europe alone. Every Afghan friend I had in Kabul – even those with a chance of doing well at home – told me of their visits to qachaqbars. They were to be found in quiet backrooms of businesses that served as fronts, or in unofficial wings of official travel agencies, or behind partitions at busy family-style restaurants, or at tea houses, or in car parks.
The full text of this essay is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.