Afghanistan: On the Brink

Ahmed Rashid in the New York Review of Books:

In December 2005 I spent several hours a day in the lobby of the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul interviewing some of the people who passed by. The hotel, perched on a hill at the edge of the city and long ago written off by the Intercontinental chain as a loss, has been through some rough times in Afghanistan’s twenty-three years of war. In 1992 I spent more than a month using the hotel as a bunker to avoid getting hit, first as the Communist regime crumbled and then as the civil war unfolded across the city below me. For much of the following decade the hotel was without regular electricity or running water and you never saw an Afghan woman there.

In 2005, sitting on a sofa in the hotel’s lobby, I found on my left a former Taliban commander with a beard down to his waist, and on my right a young and beautiful Afghan woman from Herat, whose only concession to “covering up” was a very loose and flimsy head scarf. They were both members of the new Afghan parliament that had been elected on September 18; for the past week they had been receiving instruction from UN experts on what a parliament was and how to behave in one. The two-hour lunch breaks allowed the members of parliament (MPs) to meet each other informally. As he argued with the woman, I could see that the former Taliban officer was still in a state of shock that she was there at all.

More here.