Taliban fighters have taken over the glitzy Kabul mansion of one of their fiercest enemies — the warlord and fugitive ex-vice president Abdul Rashid Dostum.
Now in the hands of rank and file Taliban fighters, the opulent villa has given the austere Islamists a peek into the lives of Afghanistan’s former rulers, and they say the luxury is the proceeds of years of endemic corruption.
Along an endless corridor with a thick apple-green carpet, a young fighter sleeps slumped on a sofa, his Kalashnikov rifle resting against him, like exotic fish glide above him in one of seven giant tanks.
The fighter is part of the personal security detail of Qari Salahuddin Ayoubi — one of the new regime’s most powerful commanders — who installed his company of 150 men in the mansion on August 15, the day Kabul fell.
The luxury AFP saw on a tour of the mansion would be unimaginable for most ordinary Afghans.
Huge glass chandeliers hang in cavernous halls, large soft sofas furnish a maze of lounges and an indoor swimming pool is finished with intricate turquoise tiles.
It even boasts a sauna, a Turkish steam bath and a fully equipped gym.
It is an out of this world experience for the new occupants, who for years sacrificed creature comforts for rebellion — living on their wits in the plains, valleys and mountains of rural Afghanistan.
But the new head of the household — now the military commander of four provinces — makes it clear his men will not get used to the luxury.
“Islam never wants us to have a luxurious life,” Ayoubi told AFP, adding luxury comes in paradise, “the life after death”.
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The thieves’ quarter’
The mansion’s owner, Dostum, is a notorious figure woven into the fabric of Afghanistan’s recent history.
A former paratrooper, communist commander, warlord and vice president, he was the very definition of a cunning political survivor who weathered over four decades of conflict in war-torn Afghanistan.
Despite a series of war crimes linked to Dostum’s forces, the former Afghan government hoped his military acumen and seething hatred of the Taliban would help them survive.
But his stronghold was overrun and the greying 67-year-old fled across the border to Uzbekistan.
Dostum is widely suspected to have hugely profited from the corruption and embezzlement that discredited the former government.
Several officials illegally took land to build luxurious mansions in one neighbourhood, earning it the nickname “Thieves’ Quarter” among locals.
In one wing of the enormous house, Taliban fighters relaxed in a massive tropical greenhouse of several hundred square metres under a huge glass roof.
That is overlooked by a mezzanine dominated by a dark wood bar — a testament to the reported decadent tastes of a general renowned for a penchant for late nights and strong liquor.
The Taliban have good reason to hate Dostum.
In 2001, he was accused of killing more than 2,000 fighters — locking many in containers in the middle of the desert where they suffocated under a scorching sun.
But Commander Ayoubi rejected any desire for revenge.
“If other people who had been oppressed like us came here, you would not have seen the chairs and tables. They might have destroyed them,” he said.
But the new regime will not allow such luxury to be built with ill-gotten gains in the future, he said.
“We are on the side of the poor,” he says, as dozens of visitors wait patiently in the corridor, idly watching the indifferent fish.
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© AFP with inputs from GVS