INGULFED

(Notes for the Abu Dhabi Bar Mitzvah)

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Cool off the Press: Breakfast with the Taliban

For the original, from the Daily Outlook Afghanistan in Kabul: click here.

One Saturday in June, traffic was light on the road from Kabul to the town of Bamyan, nestled deep in a high valley lined with sandstone cliffs 240 kilometers to the northwest. But for all the paving efforts that have made it among the smoothest in the country, this route from the Afghan capital through the 10,000-foot-high Shibar pass is less than perfect. One week earlier, head of Bamiyan’s provincial council Jawad Zahak had been targeted and dragged from his convoy by the Taliban. Four days ago, they told me in the car, he was beheaded. Hussein pointed: “Right… wait — there.”

I had found a tour company online and guessed an email address from a mush of pixels. Success came in the confirmation of a car that would deliver me from outside the dead-bolted orange gates of my hotel in Kabul to their lodge in Bamiyan. At six a.m., I was late. The hubcap-less white sedan drew a stark contrast to the polished and armored SUVs that take westerners to get mango milkshakes. And there were four men inside. Open the mind’s floodgates: this seems infinitely more kidnappy.
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Breakfast with the Taliban — تناول الفطور مع الطالبان


Downtown Kabul, past the largely expat Wazir Akbar Khan and distinctly expensive Shar-e Now neighborhoods, is a friendly place to stroll. Nestled deep in a high valley and lined with sandstone cliffs two-hundred and forty kilometers northwest, Bamiyan is even calmer. But for all the paving efforts that have made it among the smoothest in the country, and despite the stunning backdrop of jagged, dusty hills rising up through cooler and cooler air, the road in between is not so nice.

Seven days before we took our chances on this route from Kabul through the Shibar pass, head of Bamiyan’s provincial council Jawad Zahak had been pulled out of his bus by the Taliban. Three days later, he was beheaded. A fellow passenger pointed: “Right there.”

Half an hour outside of Kabul, we entered an ethnically Pashtun area. The land now controlled by the Taliban across Pakistan and Afghanistan is almost entirely Pashtun, and this stretch, as had been made tragically manifest days earlier, was within their territory. My foreignness was a danger not only to myself but to the four other Afghans in the beat up white Nissan. They should have kept me hidden inside the car. But we all wanted kebabs.

The video below is taken from my phone in a particularly dangerous stretch. In retrospect — not sure it was worth all the fuss.

[Dear readers: I am submitting this story to something, and cannot ethically publish the rest of this post however loosely I interpret the word “publish”. This doesn’t mean it’s any better than other posts. But if you’re still looking to read this nail-biter about the kebabs the Taliban eat, send an email with the words “breakfast”, “Taliban”, and “Dominique Strauss-Kahn” used in one sentence to INGULFED at GMAIL dot COM.]


All the pictures from Afghanistan here.

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