The Huey skimmed the jagged crest of the mountain at a furious pace. I squinted into the gale as the district of Now Zad emerged from behind the line of peaks standing guard. This rollercoaster 10-minute flight spared me the dangers of a gruelling, IED-riddled road journey from Musa Qal’eh.

This had been my third attempt to reach the north-western most district of Helmand. To date I had been forced to abandon this half of my remit by a predictable combination of unavoidable local problems and delayed flights. I was growing ever more frustrated and curious to visit this beautiful place with as violent a history as any in the country.

For decades Now Zad was a prosperous city of over 20,000, and an important transit route supporting the largest bazaar in North Helmand. Its riches appealed to the Taliban, who seized the town four years ago. Bitter fighting forced the population to flee, and razed large parts of the city to rubble.

Retaken in a massive assault by the Marines late last year, people are slowly starting to return despite it remaining one of the most heavily mined districts in Afghanistan.

I found cause for hope in this ghost town, walking among the few shops open in the once thriving bazaar. Sayed Murad Agha, new into post, is an active and enthusiastic Governor, and leads animated weekly shuras in which local elders and religious figures are courted for their views on the district’s future.

Security now extends almost 10km in any direction from the District Centre – maintained by a large contingent of Marines working hand in hand with the growing Afghan police and army presence. I was astounded to feel more secure here than in any other district in Helmand.

The challenge now becomes one of development – rebuilding the bazaar, repairing destroyed homes, ridding the area of mines, opening new schools and clinics, and bringing life back to the bazaar. Cautiously trying an ice cream produced as if by magic from an unlikely (and slightly alarming) looking soft serve machine tucked away in a tiny corner store, I was both surprised and encouraged. Things are clearly improving.

If it is true that stability emerges through an all too rare combination of sustained security, effective governance and visible development, then Now Zad is making more headway than most.