Kabul, Sept.29 : A nervous fear seems to have gripped most Afghan civilians, especially educated women, in the wake of the Taliban making a determined bid to regain the power that it lost seven years ago.
According to The Times, the jihadists are now just 20 minutes from Kabul. Nobody seriously thinks the Taliban could take Kabul. The capital is surrounded by mountains, has only a few routes in and remained almost untouched during the Russian occupation.
Afghanistan has more than 71,000 foreign troops under the leadership of NATO and the US, neither of which can contemplate defeat. However, the fear among Kabulis is palpable. "There is a sense of dread of return to the dark days of the past," said a western diplomat.
This year 232 soldiers have been killed, the most since the Taliban fell in 2001, and last year civilian deaths tripled to more than 4,500.
The highways, paid for with billions of foreign dollars, are now regarded as out of bounds for foreigners and many Afghans.
"The number of violent incidents has jumped from an average of 700 per month last year to 900-1,000 in the last two months," said Adrian Edwards, spokesman for the United Nations mission in Afghanistan.
"I don't think anyone is contemplating an invasion of Kabul but the Taliban are much closer to the capital - within kilometres."
The spiralling violence has forced the Bush administration to order a review of Afghan policy.
All eyes are now on General David Petraeus, who has just taken over US Central Command, where it is hoped he will work the same magic with Afghanistan as he did with his troop surge in Iraq.
This week he will be in London meeting military commanders and Britain's ambassador to Kabul, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles.
He will be told in no uncertain terms that military force alone is not the answer, and America needs to take a lead on development and political negotiations, even with the Taliban, if all is not to be lost.
According to the UN, the Taliban now have a significant presence in five of the six provinces surrounding Kabul.
"The security situation overall has worsened," admitted Brigadier General Richard Blanchette, spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
But he said: "It can be turned around - it's not a lost cause."
Thirty-six international private security companies are operating in Kabul and 11 more are setting up, despite having to pay a 300,000 dollar bond to the interior ministry.
In the midst of this violence voter registration is supposed to get underway next month for presidential elections next summer.
The four-phased voter registration was supposed to start with the most secure provinces - those around Kabul, including Wardak, Logar, Kapisa and Parwan.
According to an American adviser to the energy ministry, Taliban now runs four of the country's 19 regional electricity companies.
Through private contractors, ISAF forces are has to pay the Taliban so they can transport fuel and water supplies.