This city lives on its motorcycles.
Here in Kandahar, Afghanistan, the brief minute stopped at the light is often intimate. A man reaches back to make sure the groceries he tied to the rear rack don’t fall. A child wrapped around his father’s waist adjusts his falling sandal. A woman fixes her burqa, making sure it covers as much of her as possible.
Then the light turns green. The engines, soft and still for the minute, roar.
In this city alone, there are about 130,000 motorcycles, more than twice the number of cars, according to the traffic department. Most are produced by manufacturers like Honda or Yamaha and imported secondhand.
The motorcycle is a fixture in the streets, blending in among the vendors and the pedestrians.
The Taliban, who have expanded their control in the south in recent years, are also fond of the motorcycle. Although they increasingly use pickup trucks and Humvees taken from Afghan forces, the motorcycle remains a staple of their offensives.
The Taliban’s use of the motorcycle in hit-and-run assassinations led to a crackdown. A former police chief in Tarin Kot banned the use of motorcycles for several months. In Kandahar, the police banned double-riding.
“It’s a bit difficult for us now to take a second person — the police stop you and give you a hard time,” said Bismillah Khan, who bought his motorcycle for about $300 two years ago. Children and women, he added, are not a problem.
For motorcycle sellers in Kandahar, however, the ban on multiple riders increased sales.
“Before the ban, one motorcycle was enough for a small family, but now each family has to buy two or three bikes,” said Akhtar Mohammed, who sells mostly imported, secondhand motorcycles in a crowded market.
Kandahar residents use motorcycles for mundane transport, as well as for family picnics on the outskirts of the city on weekends. Some motorcycles are used as taxis, with wagons attached to the back for passengers.
“It has become part of life here,” Mr. Khan said. “Without a motorcycle, you are like a prisoner.”