Thursday September 23, 2021

Kabul: Taliban capture ex-vice president's villa in 'Thieves' Quarter'

"We are on the side of the poor," claims Ayoubi —the Taliban commander and new occupier of the villa
AFP
September 12, 2021


KABUL: The Taliban have taken over the opulent mansion of ex-vice president Abdul Rashid Dostum — located in the neighbourhood locally referred to as the "Thieves' Quarters".

Abdul Rashid Dostum, the ex-vice president of Afghanistan, was rumoured 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.

Following the fall of Kabul in mid-August, Qari Salahuddin Ayoubi — one of the new regime's most powerful commanders —took control of Dostum's villa, where now 150 men are stationed.

The opulent villa has given the Taliban a peek into the lives of Afghanistan's former rulers, and they say the luxury is the proceeds of years of endemic corruption.

AFP on a tour of the mansion saw luxury that 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 within the mansion.

The villa even boasts a sauna, a Turkish steam bath and a fully equipped gym.

The mansion is an out of this world experience for the new occupants, who for years sacrificed creature comforts for rebellion living in the plains, valleys and mountains of rural Afghanistan.

Ayoubi, however, has made it clear that 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".

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.

The Taliban have a 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.