Missing in Kandahar, a city spinning in enjoyment of the ordinary, is all the leadership that has vanished. This was the Taliban's stronghold, and though it has fallen to a coalition of militias armed to the teeth, the Taliban's strongmen, it seems, have slipped away.
Still, their departure has uncorked the built-up pressure of simple pleasures forbidden under the strict rule of supreme leader Mullah Omar, who is reportedly hiding in the mountains 100 miles northwest of Kandahar -- and who, it turns out, kept his own taste for the good life well-hidden.
In "the house Osama built," Osama bin Laden's gift to his Taliban host, Omar lived secluded in air-conditioned comfort until American bombs delivered an eviction notice.
American and British special operations troops in Kandahar are uncovering some darker secrets, too.
A U.N. agency worked in one Kandahar complex until al-Qaida moved in and turned it into a control center for terrorists. Among the evidence left behind when the Taliban left in a hurry were a makeshift gym and a mass of paperwork: instructions for bomb-makers and computer hackers.
Cleaning up the remnants of al-Qaida here, and securing a city where it seems every man has a gun and every boy is learning to shoot, falls to Gul Agha. He is Kandahar's former warlord and new governor, dispensing patronage and hospitality, and a huge promise.
"There'll be security on the streets within two weeks," he says. But in the past 20 years, only the Taliban achieved that kind of control.
Agha's name means "Mr. Flower," but the local symbol here is still a bouquet of grenades.
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