Rashidov is engrossed in video combat. The character that he manipulates is moving in arid and rocky terrain. Gunfire roars. Near a rotting tree, the character gets down on one knee, and takes aim at an opponent. But just as Rashidov readies to shoot, there is a deafening noise. He is hit. The buildings disappear, the soldier disappears, and an electronic display informs him: Game Over.
At the Termez video game parlor, combat is not much more than an event conjured by computerized pixels and teenage imaginations. "I think it is good [military] training," says Rashidov, referring to the video game in a quiet and hesitant voice. However, he stresses that in real life he has no zest for combat. "I would like to be a mechanic."
Indeed, many young Uzbeks here say the farther away the war, the better. "Now that Kabul has fallen, it is a good thing," says Ismail Abdulayev, 18, stepping forward to make himself heard amid the din of electronic shooting and revving racecar engines. "It means the front line has moved away from Termez. It means Termez will be safer."
Not long ago, residents of Termez could peer beyond the barbed wire fence that runs along the Amu Darya River separating Uzbekistan from Afghanistan, and watch the smoke of bombardments drifting skyward from the reddish foothills of the Hindu Kush.
However, since Northern Alliance fighters retook Mazar-i-Sharif, a strategic Afghan city only 40 miles from Termez, the fighting has drifted southward, following the retreating Taliban.
As a staging point for the 1979-89 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, Termez was once a city of relative prosperity at the edge of a war zone. It is a place of broad avenues lined with trees, and large houses. Locals say that Termez used to be one of the few places in the Soviet Union where one could find the same goods available in Moscow. Now, it can be hard to find a restaurant that serves a meal.
In general, locals seem supportive of the anti-terrorism campaign. "The Americans are doing the right thing, going after Osama bin Laden," said Abdulayev, who added he would only consider fighting in Afghanistan to protect Uzbekistan. "They are not fighting Islam. They are trying to destroy terrorism."
Rustam Kadyrov, a 30-year-old shopkeeper, said he has been to Afghanistan and would like to go again -- but not to fight. "When I am not at work, I like to paint," Kadyrov said. "And once there is peace and stability in Kabul, I will go and paint there."
Raffi Khatchadourian is a Tashkent-based freelance journalist.