“If there is a paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this!” is the inscription on Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur’s Mausoleum in Kabul, Afghanistan. Of all the cities conquered by Babur Khan in the founding of the Moghul Empire, Kabul held a special place of honor in his heart. It was his city of dreams. It was the city that gave rise to his empire. In 1504, Babur came out of the mountains of Ghor after having traveled through snowdrifts higher than the tallest of his men. Those mountains and those surrounding all of Kabul are part of the Hindu Kush (aka the Hindu Killer). Babur would cross those mountains again in his conquest of the Punjab. His descendants would build beautiful edifices such as the Taj Mahal. Babur himself died in Delhi and was interred in a Mausoleum in Agra despite his fervent desire to be buried in Kabul. Some years later, his son Humayun is said to have moved his remains to Kabul where they were laid in what came to be known as the Bagh-e Babur or Babur’s Gardens.
Kabul predates the great Mughal Emperor by some two to three thousand years. The city has seen it’s share of famous visitors — Genghis, of course, being one of the most famous. Seven hundred years later, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan and take the capital. Not long after the Soviet invasion, events that would lead to the American invasion were set in motion.
On a dark winter night in 1979 not long after the Soviets occupied Afghanistan, the people of Kabul gathered on their rooftops. The men yelled “Allahu Akhbar” and fired Kalashnikov rifles into the air. The women sounded off as well. They stood on their rooftops ululating in the time honored manner of Islamic women sending their men off to war. This signaled the beginning of the Mujahideen insurgency in Central and Eastern Afghanistan. A decade later, Soviet Lieutenant General Boris Gromov walked across the the Amu Darya River as the last Soviet soldier to depart Afghanistan.
Almost immediately after the Soviets departed, the Mujahideen commanders fell into civil war fighting for control of the country. Kabul had been largely untouched by the Mujahideen insurgency during the Soviet occupation. The city was not so fortunate at the hands of the Mujahideen. The Mujahideen commanders such as Rashid Doostum and Gulbuddin Hekmetyar staked out areas like street gangs in American ghettoes and proceeded to bombard each other with captured Soviet Artillery and Armor. Whole neighborhoods were flattened. The Mujahideen raped, pillaged and brought near complete destruction to Kabul. What the Soviets had left untouched, the Mujahideen had virtually destroyed. The residents of the Kabul who had earlier greeted the Mujahideen as liberators from the Soviet puppets now fled the city to refugee camps in Pakistan, Iran and out to Europe via Central Asia.
After a series of defeats and setbacks at the hands of the Ahmad Shah Massoud led Northern Alliance, the Taliban entered Kabul. They were hailed as conquering heroes and restorers of law and order. They wasted little time in declaring the new Islamic Caliphate of Afghanistan. They emplaced sharia as the law of the land and replaced Radio Kabul with Radio Sharia. Soon thereafter, televisions, music and dancing were outlawed. Girl schools were closed. Women were confined to the home or forced to wear the burqa in public. Men were made to grow beards and shave their heads on pain of public beating. Religious police brutally beat Afghans for the slightest infractions. There were beard patrols that checked to ensure that beards were at least fist length meaning that if the religious police grabbed one’s beard in his fist and one’s beard did not protrude from the bottom of his fist, you were beaten. The five daily prayers were made mandatory. Any Muslim who was late or not in attendance was beaten flailed mercilessly. Public executions and medieval punishments became the norm in Kabul’s Olympic Stadium.
A few years after the Taliban took Kabul, Osama bin Laden sought political refuge in Afghanistan. The Saudis had stripped him of his citizenship. The United States had pressured Sudan into deporting bin Laden from his safe haven in Khartoum. Osama contacted Mullah Omar and was given permission to fly with his family and entourage into the country. Osama took up residence in the South at Karnak Farms but had other places of refuge throughout the South and East.
It was from Afghanistan that Osama planned his 9-11 attacks. Once those plans were carried out and the Twin Towers fell, President George Bush demanded that Mullah Omar surrender Osama or suffer the consequences. Mullah Omar refused to bow to Washington’s pressure. The invasion started soon thereafter and Kabul fell in short order.
An Afghan friend told me that he sat on a place called Antenna Hill overlooking Kabul as the rockets fell on the city. He watched as Coalition forces entered the city from the North and East and the Taliban fled to the South. I visited Antenna Hill while I was in Afghanistan. The whole of the city is visible from that vantage. I could imagine events unfolding as they had in 2001. Six year later in 2007, I was returning to Kabul for a third time. This time, I would spend eight weeks preparing to train Afghan Police in Western Afghanistan.