“Well, at least we’re not in Baghdad,” we used to say when confronted by the vagaries of the Kabul winter. No heat, sporadic electricity and growing disaffection among the population might make us uncomfortable, but those of us living outside the smothering embrace of the embassies or the United Nations had relative freedom of movement and few security worries.
And of course we had the Serena hotel. Its spa offered solace, a gym and a hot shower; we could pretend for a few hours that we were in Dubai.
But a week ago last Monday, Taliban gunmen burst into the lobby, one exploding his ball-bearing vest, one running to the gym and spa area, spraying bullets as he went. Eight people died, and several more were wounded.
It was a rude shock for those of us who used to feel superior to those who cowered behind their reinforced walls, venturing out only in bulletproof glass surrounded by convoys of big men with big guns.
We shopped on Chicken Street for carpets and trinkets, we dined at the shrinking number of restaurants that still serve alcohol. We partied at L’Atmosphere, “L’Atmo” to its friends, the “in” spot for the international crowd, and had our hair and nails done at the Nova salon. And we patted ourselves on the back because we knew the real Kabul.
None of us was prepared for what happened at the Serena. The Taliban are following a new strategy, their spokesman announced. They will go after civilians specifically, and will bring their mayhem to places where foreigners congregate.
So much for L’Atmo. [complete article]
Britain’s last chance of securing this treacherous corner of Afghanistan lies in the hands of a piratical, black-turbaned figure with long beard, white cloak and silver-sequinned slippers with curled toes.
Mullah Abdul Salaam may not look much like a white knight. He served as a commander in the Taleban and even today his true loyalties remain suspect. The 45-year-old former Mujahidin guerrilla could, however, decide the fate of the British mission to stabilise the lawless province of Helmand, where this week he was put in charge of the key district of Musa Qala.
“He’s not just the best show in town,” one British officer remarked. “He’s the only show in town.”
Mullah Salaam’s rise to power in Musa Qala, the test case for British efforts to evict the Taleban and install central authority, is a classic Afghan tale of intrigue, bloodshed, farce and fate. In an interview with The Times the former warlord explained how last year he had severed relations with the Taleban, was courted secretly by a foreign diplomat and eventually swapped sides to join the British-led effort. [complete article]