By Abdul Hai Kakar
BBC News, Kandahar
A coffee shop called Starbucks bang in the middle of Kandahar is hardly something one takes in one's stride.
The coffee shop is a meeting place for young people
Before we go any further let's be clear - it is no relation of the US-based international chain of the same name.
Kandahar's coffee shop may not have the crisp decor and skinny lattes which are regulation fare for Starbucks the world over.
But customers in the southern Afghan city say it is a welcome diversion from dusty, narrow streets, haywire traffic and conservative views.
Kandahar's Starbucks boasts its own lively atmosphere with smartly dressed locals - some in trousers and shirts, some even wearing ties - often to be found in animated discussion.
Photographs of Afghan heroes such as Ahmed Shah Abdali, Mirwais Khan, Amanullah Khan and Sherbet Gul of National Geographic fame adorn the walls.
There is also a bookshelf packed with literary, political, social and entertainment magazines.
Customers say it is a meeting place for friends to exchange thoughts over a steaming coffee.
"I wait so eagerly for the coffee shop to open every evening so I can meet my friends," said one, Abdullah Shehwar.
"It is so wonderfully quiet and only the educated come here. We can talk to our heart's content."
Mr Shehwar and his friends give a graphic description of life outside the coffee shop.
"Kandahar is a very conservative place, where people are trapped in ancient traditions and superstitions.
Kandahar is a conservative and restive city
"They have no idea where the world is headed. Nor do they have any interest in what the youngsters think and feel.
"Homes and most public places are dominated by the elders and they won't let us speak our minds.
"Really, this coffee shop is the only place where one can express one's views openly."
The coffee shop's clientele in Kandahar is dominated by local and foreign journalists, NGO workers and students.
Saifullah Habibi is a regular customer who has hardly missed a day since the coffee shop opened.
"You have no idea how happy I feel here," he says.
"By late evening, I find myself dreading the moment it will close for the night."
Customers say the coffee shop has spawned its own community of sorts.
"Conflicts and war have robbed us of our thinking. We need a space where we can think about how to deal with the label of terrorism and Talebanisation that has been slapped on us," Mr Habibi says.
The owner of Kandahar's Starbucks is Nasim Sharifi, an Afghan American who opened the shop on returning to Afghanistan after 13 years.
"Earning pots of money is not my objective here," he says matter-of-factly.
"I want the famed Afghan hospitality to be visible to all who visit Kandahar.
The coffee shop also stocks books and magazines
"The idea is to provide a space to young people who may not want to invite their friends to their homes for various reasons," he adds.
It wasn't easy for Mr Sharifi to get the shop going.
"Local people here were not really familiar with the taste of coffee and we were only selling a few cups a day," he says.
"We now sell more than 500 cups in a typical day."
Mr Sharifi is now building a whole new floor above the coffee shop.
It is intended to be a kind of a youth club with indoor games, a gymnasium and regular karate classes.
He knows there will be stumbling blocks along the way, mainly in the shape of resistance from the more orthodox local population.
But he is determined to go ahead with his plans.
And from the clientele that he has already, it seems he will have plenty of supporters and well wishers to bank on should the going get tough.