A Little Uxorial Wisdom
Kabul (pronounced ‘kobble’) is not safe. It’s too risky to go there, said my wife. And it’ll be freezing, she added. But I insisted on going. So she consulted her favourite Kabuliwallahs, who advised that I be careful. I just about caught the early morning Indian Airlines flight, which they said never takes off on time. On that day it did, flying over Pakistan and the snow-swathed Hindu Kush range, landing in a broad valley surrounded by brown mountains. “Welcome to Afghanistan. The outside temperature is minus 2 degrees centigrade,” announced the airhostess as the doors opened to bright sunshine.
Three layers of security: Afghans, Gorkhas and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)—with only the Afghans visible—protect the airport, which is 30 km from the Bagram military airbase. Fifty feet high walls of padded cement—of the kind you can still see separating two communities in Northern Ireland or Israel—protect vips in Kabul. A Russian MIG is parked in the centre of the outer cordon, flanked by hoardings that say, “No Guns”, “No Bribery” and “Report Corruption”.
We report to the Intercontinental Kabul, the oldest hotel in town, perched on a hill and not far from a gurudwara and a Hindu temple on the adjoining hill. In the hotel, I meet the crew of Pamir Airways, who explain the uncertainty of flights to and from Kabul—which is why all airlines are called ‘Inshallah Airlines’. Kabul certainly seemed safer than Peshawar, across the Khyber pass, pulverised by daily suicide bombings. The last big attack, on October 28, was on a UN guest house. We moved several times across Kabul without any harm. A week after we left, a car bomber targeted another UN guest house frequented by foreigners in the popular and ‘safe’ Wazir Akbar Khan district. The moral of the story? Listen to your wife.
The last time Kabul was razed to the ground was in 1996, when the Taliban took over. It is being rebuilt slowly, modern buildings replacing the old, mud structures. At least 50 wedding halls have come up along the new ring road, which is still under construction. Traffic is incredibly chaotic, with mayhem prevailing at the hundreds of roundabouts. Posters and graffiti are reminders of the November presidential polls, in which President Karzai was surprised by the challenge from erstwhile colleague, Dr Abdullah Abdullah. Taboo under the Taliban, beauty parlours, barber shops, massage joints, cinemas and music shops are back. Portraits of the national hero, Tajik tiger Ahmad Shah Masood, who was killed in the first suicide bombing in Afghanistan two days before 9/11, are visible across Kabul. People say that if the Al Qaeda had not attacked the twin towers, the Taliban would have been ruling Afghanistan and might have reached Kazakhstan by now.
Alcohol and the oldest profession do not go hand in hand here. Liquor is banned but available for foreigners, mostly UN staff, in select places. With hotels dry, bars here have become coffee shops and smoking joints. Most eateries meant for expats, like Taverna du Liban (Lebanese), Safi (Afghani) and Anaar (Indian), serve intoxicants, although foreigners prefer to drink at home. Saying life is short, the owner of Liban, Kamil, moved from Baghdad to Kabul. And trust a Brit to run the classiest watering hole—the Gandamak, which is considered Taliban- and drone-proof and named after the treaty imposed by the Brits on the Afghans in 1873. To clear the different layers of security, you need to know the password, have a pocketful of dollars and a respiratory system strong enough to survive the heat and smoke from a combination of bukharis, cigarettes and cigars, which mix with the Gandamak punch to form the headiest of improvised explosive cocktails. Smuggled into the den masquerading as Indians are a few Pakistani friends, whom the Afghan guard had kept out, saying entry was only for ‘kaffirs’.
United by the Gab
“Welcome to my beloved ancestral home,” says Prince Mustafa, the suave grandson of King Zaheer. He makes a brief appearance at an Afghanistan-Pakistan-India trialogue where the theme is ‘Finding Common Ground for Peace’. The new Obama strategy is under the scanner. The Afghans feel deadlines are never conducive to mission accomplishment, especially ones such as ending corruption in six months. Yet, the next day the Afghanistan Times reported on its front page that the mayor of Kabul had been jailed for brazen misuse of authority. A few days later, Karzai vouchsafed for his mayor’s honesty. The editor of the Killid weekly told me the next edition of the magazine would carry a cartoon of Obama holding Karzai’s hand and that it would be captioned “The blind leading the blind”. Kabul Intercontinental is packed with Afghan seminarists debating ‘Empowering Afghan Press for Transitional Justice’ and ‘Subnational Public Administration Reforms’. All this is cloud nine stuff for jirga lovers.
Ashok Mehta’s Kabul Diary (Jan 18) was a well-reported travelogue. Common Afghans are as clueless as we Indians about affairs of their nation. Only the nato and the Taliban know the condition on the ground. A. Mukherjee, on e-mail
Mr Ashok Mehta, do tell us how many US army drones are out there in Afghanistan. Or how many innocent Afghans are killed in missile attacks. Or on what mission you went there. Mr Mehta, why don’t you also tell the common reader the truth about America’s true intentions there? Ramesh Raghuvanshi, Pune
We at Outlookindia.com welcome feedback and your comments, including scathing criticism
1. Scathing, passionate, even angry critiques are welcome, but please do not indulge in abuse and invective. Our Primary concern is to keep the debate civil. We urge our users to try and express their disagreements without being disagreeable. Personal attacks are not welcome. No ad hominem please.
2. Please do not post the same message again and again in the same or different threads
3. Please keep your responses confined to the subject matter of the article you are responding to. Please note that our comments section is not a general free-for-all but for feedback to articles/blogs posted on the site
4. Our endeavour is to keep these forums unmoderated and unexpurgated. But if any of the above three conditions are violated, we reserve the right to delete any comment that we deem objectionable and also to withdraw posting privileges from the abuser. Please also note that hate-speech is punishable by law and in extreme circumstances, we may be forced to take legal action by tracing the IP addresses of the poster.
5. If someone is being abusive or personal, or generally being a troll or a flame-baiter, please do not descend to their level. The best response to such posters is to ignore them and send us a message at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT
6. Please do not copy and paste copyrighted material. If you do think that an article elsewhere has relevance to the point you wish to make, please only quote what is considered fair-use and provide a link to the article under question.
7. There is no particular outlookindia.com line on any subject. The views expressed in our opinion section are those of the author concerned and not that of all of outlookindia.com or all its authors.
8. Please also note that you are solely responsible for the comments posted by you on the site. The comments could be deleted or edited entirely at our discretion if we find them objectionable. However, the mere fact of their existence on our site does not mean that we necessarily approve of their contents. In short, the onus of responsibility for the comments remains solely with the authors thereof. Outlookindia.com or any of its group publications, may, however, retains the right to publish any of these comments, with or without editing, in any medium whatsoever. It is therefore in your own interest to be careful before posting.
9.Outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for how any search engine -- such as Google, Bing etc -- caches or displays these comments. Please note that you are solely responsible for posting these comments and it is a privilege being granted to our registered users which can be withdrawn in case of abuse. To reiterate:
a. Comments once posted can only be deleted at the discretion of outlookindia.com
b. The comments reflect the views of the authors and not of outlookindia.com
c. outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for the way search engines cache or display these comments
d. Please therefore take due caution before you post any comments as your words could potentially be used against you
10. We have an online thread for our comments policy:
You are welcome to post your suggestions here or in case you have a specific issue, to directly email us at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT