Expats fortified against Kabul's grim reality: Raymond Whitaker finds the Afghan capital's diplomatic quarter caught between two fires

IT EXPLAINS a great deal about Afghanistan that the diplomatic quarter of Kabul is named after Wazir Akbar Khan, the man who murdered the British Resident below the Bala Hissar fortress 150 years ago.

The Bala Hissar remains a massive 19th century presence on one of the many peaks that dot the capital, though it has been rebuilt. Wazir Akbar Khan, on the other hand, is a testament to 1960s ferro-concrete design. Its box-like houses, each surrounded by a high wall, would be ideal protection against the high explosive currently flying about the city were it not for the fashion for picture windows prevailing when it was built. They have all had to be covered with shatter-proof plastic and blocked out with sandbags. Those are the downstairs rooms: upper storeys are unusable because of the bullets that regularly fly in.

Wazir Akbar Khan is hard against Bibi Maroo ridge, which is occupied by President Burhanuddin Rabbani's government forces. The Bala Hissar and Monument Hill, each less than two miles from Bibi Maroo, are held by the Uzbek militia of Abdul Rashid Dostam, who once sided with President Rabbani but is now trying to force him out. The two sides pour fire into each other from tanks, howitzers, rocket-launchers and machine guns for several hours each day, and what was once the most desirable district of the city is caught in the middle. Apart from projectiles which fall short, the anti-government forces regularly target Wazir Akbar Khan with salvos of rockets. Virtually every house has been hit several times, and those with basements are particularly in demand.

Despite this, Kabul's dwindling band of expatriates still clings to the quarter. Officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has stayed while United Nations bodies have pulled out, and nearly all the journalistic corps live in one street just below the ridge. Their houses are easy to spot, since at night their generators make them isolated points of light in a blacked-out city. Walking from house to house as tracers shred the trees overhead, it is prudent to keep to the side of the street which screens the anti-government positions.

On Monday afternoon, the heaviest bombardment the city has suffered in several weeks was heralded by a rocket salvo on Wazir Akbar Khan. Two exploded inside one house occupied by a local family, but they were all out. A third landed inthe garden of another house, scattering the vegetables of a hawker outside but leaving him unhurt.

The pounding lasted until well after daybreak yesterday morning, but the residents of this quarter, with their satellite telephones and their copious supplies of 'Vitamin V' - code for vodka left behind from the Russian occupation - escaped relatively unscathed. Elsewhere in the phoneless, waterless, powerless capital, others were less lucky: at least 18 people were killed and more than 100 injured.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Tax Manager / Accountant

£35 - £50k DOE: Guru Careers: A Tax Manager / Accountant (ACA / CA / CTA) is n...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketing Operative

£6 - £15 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a well e...

Recruitment Genius: Data Scientist

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Full Stack Software Developer - Javascript

£18000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen