Welcome to Toyotastan

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One of the first things I noticed in Kabul in late August was that 9 out of 10 cars are Toyotas. And 9 out of 10 Toyotas are Corolla wagons with small diesel engines. The rest are mostly Toyota pickups, the vehicle of choice for the former rulers here, the Taliban. And because Afghans drive on the right-hand side of the road, I couldn't help noticing further that nearly all the Toyotas have steering wheels on the right. In other words, they're designed to be driven on the left-hand side of the road.

How did the Japanese cars wind up here? According to our driver, Malik Jan, many are brand-new surplus cars that didn't sell in Japan. But most are used cars with mileage so high they cannot be driven legally in that country. The vehicles are shipped to ports in the Gulf, then driven across Iran into Afghanistan.

The steering wheels are wrong, but the price is right: An almost-new Corolla wagon can be had for the equivalent of $5,000, our driver said. Used ones cost much less. The sturdy autos are ideal for the wretched roads here, the result of 23 years of land mines and Soviet tanks.

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