Ann Marlowe at the Wall Street Journal has an unexpectedly uplifting article about the economic situation in Mazar-i-Sharif–the capital of Balkh Province in northern Afghanistan. The piece highlights Khaled Amiri, the creator of a new Afghan version of a gated community designed to accommodate 30,000 people.

The park and amenities are designed to persuade well-heeled Mazaris to fork out $20,000 or more for housing sites. So far 60 large houses have been built; they are privately financed but must conform to plans provided by the developers. Eventually, each of the six sections will have its own schools, clinic, park, market and mosque. House sites come with water and electricity (an on-again, off-again affair in Mazar), as well as an unheard-of amenity here, trash collection.

In the spring of 2002, Mazar had a population of perhaps 500,000. (There has been no census in Afghanistan in decades.) No building was taller than the medieval tiled shrine at the center of town that gave the town its name, “the honored shrine.” Private cars were few. Fearful women in chadori, the local word for burqas, piled six and eight into decrepit taxis to visit the bazaar, where only the shops ringing the shrine had glass windows.

Now Mazar may hold as many as 1.2 million people, six-story buildings are common, and the town has filled in much of the nine-kilometer length depicted in its master plan. Private automobiles are common, as are traffic jams and multistoried bazaars. Women increasingly wear only the headscarf, second only to the women of Kabul in their freedom.

And it appears this development is providing some employment for women in the region:

A few kilometers from Amiri Park are two other novelties. The first is the “For You” supermarket, just 20 days old. It is enormous by Afghan standards, the size of a small-town supermarket in the U.S. And it has an entire lane of haircare products alone. The supermarket employs 12 Afghan women, a rarity in the bazaar areas here.

The supermarket belongs to Dr. Mohammed Naseem Kazimi, originally of nearby Andkoie, who also owns the factory that produces the toilet tissue, paper towels and some of the bottled water “For You” sells. The factory is one of only two in Afghanistan producing toilet paper, and it only makes 1,000 boxes of 30 rolls daily. Here the 42-person workforce also includes women. They theoretically work separate eight-hour shifts, but men file in and out of the factory floor while women stuff tissues in boxes.