Dylan Jones: 'Kabul’s tourist attractions include the swimming pool where the Taliban used to execute infidels'

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The Independent Online

Dog fighting is big in Kabul, so big it's even advertised in the in-flight magazine to be found on Safi Airways, one of only three commercial airlines that fly to Afghanistan (there is a loo in club class, and a sink, but no taps). Other tourist attractions include the tank graveyard (courtesy of the Soviets), the Darulaman Palace (once lived in by King Amanullah and then destroyed by the Taliban) and the Bibi Mahru swimming pool, built by the Russians, where the Taliban used to execute infidels on a daily basis.

Kabul is a broken wheel, a place where the faecal dust can make your tonsils swell to the size of golf balls. This is a city with a zoo with no animals and a fun fair with no rides. There are beggars everywhere; small boys crowd around you and ask for dollars, pens and cigarettes, and offer to polish your shoes, even if you happen to be wearing trainers. What was once called the Garden City is now an open sewer in search of a future. It is the only place I have ever seen someone eat and defecate at the same time. Kabul makes the poverty in parts of India seem like Switzerland.

The city is swelling as displaced persons move in from the villages, crowding into the market squares looking for food and drugs. Allied security forces forego soft-shell vehicles for armoured landcruisers, as there are IEDs everywhere – bombers come in for the night and then disappear back into the mountains before dawn. Our drivers delighted in telling us where various people had been blown up, although they came into their own when we were stopped by an Afghan National Police guard, who wouldn't let us through a checkpoint because he didn't like the look of my pass. He pointed his rifle at us and started screaming for us to wind down our window as a dozen honking cars pushed in behind us, making me think this might be some sort of ambush; then our driver flashed his pass (actually a packet of cigarettes) and we were waved through.

The sweat on the back of my neck was suddenly cold.

Dylan Jones is the editor of 'GQ'