Taliban fighters have taken over the lavish luxury villa of one of their worst enemies – warlord and former vice president on the run, Abdul Rashid Dostum.
Now occupied by ordinary Taliban fighters, the frugal Islamists get a glimpse into the lives of Afghanistan’s former rulers, a result of years of gross corruption.
Along an endless corridor with a thick apple-green carpet, a young warrior lies asleep on a sofa with a Kalashnikov rifle next to him, while exotic fishermen swim lazily past him in one of seven large aquariums.
The fighter belongs to the security guards of Qari Salahuddin Ayoubi, one of the new regime’s most powerful commanders, who installed himself and 150 soldiers in the palace on the same day as Kabul fell, on 15 August.
Of another world
The sumptuous luxury AFP got to see during a small tour, ordinary Afghans would not even be able to imagine.
Huge crystal candelabra hang from the ceiling in large halls, huge, soft sofas fill a maze of living rooms and an indoor pool is clad in turquoise tiles. There is also a sauna, Turkish steam bath and a fully equipped gym in the villa.
Being in the palace is an experience from a different reality for the new residents, who for years have sacrificed all comfort for war, while surviving with the help of their own ingenuity in the mountains, valleys and plains of poor and barren Afghanistan.
But the new owner, now commander-in-chief of four Afghan provinces, makes it clear that his men will not get used to the luxury.
– Islam wants us to never have a luxurious life. Luxury comes in paradise, life after death, says Ayoubi.
The villa’s owner, Dostum, is a notorious figure woven into Afghanistan’s modern history.
The former paratrooper, communist officer, warlord and vice president is the very definition of one who survives by turning the cloak after the wind in a cunning way through four decades of conflict in a war-torn Afghanistan.
Despite the fact that he and his forces are accused of a large number of war crimes, the former Afghan government hoped that his military prowess and red-hot hatred of the Taliban would help them survive.
But his core areas were quickly conquered by the Taliban, and even the graying 67-year-old fled to Uzbekistan.
Imbued with corruption
Dostum is suspected of having taken full advantage of the opportunity to profit from the corruption and bribery that permeated and discredited the resigned government.
Several officials readily took over plots of land to build luxury villas in the Sherpur neighborhood, which became popularly known as the Thieves’ Quarter.
In a wing of the giant villa, a group of Taliban fighters relaxed in a massive tropical conservatory of several hundred square meters under an extensive glass roof.
Over the conservatory extends a long balcony with a bar of dark mahogany, revealing Dostum’s decadent taste for late nights and strong liquor.
Killed in containers
The Taliban may have good reasons to hate Dostum. In 2001, he was accused of killing more than 2,000 Taliban fighters, including by locking many in containers left in the desert, where they were strangled to death under a scorching sun.
But Commander Ayoubi denies that they have any desire for revenge.
– If other oppressed had come here like us, you would not have found any table or chairs. Everything could have been crushed, he says.
But the new regime will not allow such luxuries to be built up with illegal income in the future, he says.
– We are on the side of the poor, he says while a dozen visitors wait patiently in the corridor, while they watch the fish swimming lazily past without noticing them.