Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Has the “Kabul bubble” burst?

October 29, 2009

Wednesday’s attacks on foreign U.N. workers at a guest-house in a normally secure area of Kabul shook the nerves of everyone in the city. Rightly or wrongly, the community of Western journalists, aid workers and security contractors often make the crude comparison between working in Baghdad and working in Kabul. All seem to agree that they prefer living in the latter, where they can travel around with relative ease, visit bars and restaurants and go to parties across town.


Kabul is, despite the concrete barriers and armoured vehicles, a beautiful city, nestled among towering mountains. None of the many restaurants and coffee shops frequented by foreigners have been attacked so far. Only the luxury Serena hotel has been hit by Taliban attackers before, the latest also on Wednesday when it was hit with rockets intended for the presidential palace.

Before Wednesday, driving in the Shehrpu or Shahr-e Now districts, which the guest-house straddles, did not require a second thought. It would be laughable actually to think that these areas were high-risk. They are populated by “narco-mansions” a nickname for the gaudy, ostentatious palaces built by powerful Afghans and occupied by governors or foreign companies. Shahr-e Now, or “New town”, is home to bustling market parades, popular Afghan restaurants and bright, colourful street lights at night.

All the mansions have some form of security, mostly private contractors guarding heavy iron barriers or sitting in guard boxes by the front door. Shahr-e Now is where Kabul comes alive and where Afghans socialise.

Most attacks until now have been targetted at military convoys, embassies or government ministries. It’s natural for someone living and working in Kabul to steer clear from a block of U.S. humvees or armoured off-road cars and people try to avoid hanging around the diplomatic buildings, which tend to be surrounded by concrete blast walls.

Guest-houses, however, have never really been seen as target. Perhaps security experts would argue otherwise, but it is safe to say they are not at the top of an insurgent’s list of places to attack.kab2 The Bakhtar guest-house is relatively low-key. Many had not heard of it before the attack. It is on a well-known but unremarkable side street, surrounded by other houses. Its green iron door was not distinctive at all.

The attack on Bakhtar showed perhaps that the Taliban are turning to relatively low profile targets because they have little hope breaching the vast, heavily fortified military bases of foreign forces or well-protected embassies.


I am working with an NGO here in Kabul, I can tell that the security situation has worsened by at least 80% compared with years gone.
On the street where our offices and guest houses are located, they have introduced three new massive Iron barriers and increased the security personnel by about 50%, that’s beside the massive blast proof concrete walls we already had in place.
The distance between our offices and the Airport is about 1.5 miles, going there require us having at least two off roaders full of Gurka security guards and a bullet proof land cruiser.
We are already decreasing our expat staff and assigning their positions to Afghan employees.

This should give you an idea how bad the security situation is.

Back in 2002 -3 we could easily walk into a bar in Wazir Akbar khan area and stay there until late hours.

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