is now facing mortal danger. It has to survive, but it is not clear
how it can manage. Hotel
Intercontinental in Kabul, which was attacked by gunmen last
Saturday, used to fit like a glove, like a grandmother’s couch.
Outside, the war has been raging. Millions of Afghan lives were
aimlessly broken, hundreds of thousands lost.
price of more than 16 years of NATO occupation has exceeded $1
trillion, but instead of bringing peace and prosperity, it has
reduced Afghanistan to rubble.
Province, Soviet water pipe. (Photo: Vanessa Beeley)
that is still functioning in the country are structures and
infrastructure built before and during the Soviet era, like
irrigation ducts, canals and bread factories. Other tangible
assistance came recently from China and India, but almost nothing was
provided by the NATO occupation countries, except countless fences,
wires and military installations.
before the siege at the Intercontinental
Hotel, which left more than 20 people dead, Afghanistan’s
President Ashraf Ghani confessed to ‘60 Minutes’ correspondent
Lara Logan that he is unable to protect his own capital.
it is not only the capital, of course. The entire country is
spiraling into chaos. It is clear that it will soon be impossible to
control it anymore, at least as one entity, from Kabul.
can be heard more and more often on the streets of Kabul, Jalalabad
and Herat that reducing this country to perpetual conflict and chaos
may be the exact plan of the occupation forces.
used to joke about Hotel Intercontinental – ‘This place feels
like a Soviet three-star hotel in some provincial Siberian town. Bent
shower bars, stained but otherwise clean carpets, indifferent but
somehow friendly staff – you could wave as much as you wanted, but
the waitress in the hotel’s cafe would only move after you’d come
to her personally, smiled broadly, and pointed your finger at some
particular item from the limited assortment of sweets.’
Intercontinental reception. (Photo: Andre Vltchek)
everything, Hotel Intercontinental Kabul was always there, standing.
It was crumbling, but still somehow majestic, full of history and
old-fashioned charm. Its lobby was decorated with traditional Afghan
landscapes and portraits. The vistas from the hotel rooms and
balconies were breathtaking: the old Bagh-e Bala Palace with its vast
public park, then the entire capital city down below as though
sitting in a crater, and the great mountain range rising towards the
sky right behind that urban sprawl.
musicians at the Hotel Intercontinental. (Photo: Andre Vltchek)
breakfast hours, a few tables near the window in the hotel restaurant
were almost always occupied by Russian-speaking pilots and crew
members from an Afghan passenger airline, Kam Air. I don’t know
whether these people were Russian or Ukrainian, but they spoke
Russian among themselves, and also to me. They were tall and
muscular, as pilots operating in a war zone are expected to be.
always exchanged greetings, as well as one or two jokes. No deep
discussions, just that – a few jokes and a few very warm smiles.
time ago, I had to fly to the ancient city of Herat, and was
traveling early in the morning with Kam Air on the same flight as the
crew. My driver was late and I approached the airline minivan, which
was just about to depart for the airport.
you please take me with you to the airport, boys?” I asked.
of course, of course – just jump in!” they grinned.
were all part of a big family. Foreigners staying at Intercontinental
– not rich and not poor, not part of any ‘government initiative’
or wealthy NGO. This hotel was for ‘working people’ –
journalists, filmmakers, pilots. Those who required ‘special
protection’ were staying behind the enormous concrete walls of
their embassies, or in the only truly luxury hotel in the country –
Embassy wall. (Photo: Andre Vltchek)
hours later, we were flying over tremendous Afghan mountains and tiny
ancient villages made of mud, miles below the wing. I was taking
photographs, while imagining that insane US “mother of all bombs”
that was dropped just a few days earlier on an identical hamlet,
killing who knows how many innocent people.
two powerful engines of an old but reliable MD-82 were purring
reassuringly at the rear of the plane. Then, at some point, I closed
my eyes and fell asleep. The next thing I experienced was a gentle
pat on my shoulder, followed by friendly whisper: “Kofeiku ne
khotite? Rebyata tut tol’ko cto svezii svarili” (“Would you
like some coffee? The guys here just brewed a fresh one…”)
drank the aromatic brew, looking down at those stunning, enormous
mountains covered by snow. Russian-speaking pilots were in the
cockpit, steering the plane with great experience and confidence.
thought: “If there is one crew in the world that is qualified to
fly over this beautiful but complex and dangerous terrain, then it is
was one of those moments when I felt totally happy and alive, drunk
with passion for what I had been doing: working in Afghanistan,
exposing crimes committed there by the Western countries, falling
head over heels in love with this ancient and proud nation, flying
over its peaks into one of the most interesting cities of Central
Asia – Herat.
January 20, 2018, in the intensive care unit of Tokyo’s St. Luke’s
Hospital, I was fighting for my life, months after my year-old foot
wound re-opened in Afghanistan, and had since refused to heal.
the fog of fever and IV, I observed coverage from Kabul on a
television screen that was hanging above my bed. ‘My’
Intercontinental Hotel had been attacked. In fact, it was overrun by
what was allegedly one of the most vicious branches of the Taliban,
known as the Haqqani Network. At least that is what was tweeted by
Javid Faisal, a spokesman for the Afghan government’s chief
least 21 people lost their lives during the 14-hour standoff. Almost
immediately, several pilots and crew members from Kam Air were
murdered in cold blood. So were two Venezuelan pilots. None of these
people were ‘supporters of the government,’ nor were they
collaborators with the invading NATO force.
were simply a group of romantics, a group of rugged, brave but also
very kind and gentle men who adored flying and who, like myself, fell
in love with Afghanistan. I know this because they told me, and
because it was just so obvious!
case anyone is wondering, ‘my hotel in Kabul’ has nothing to do
with the luxury US chain of the same name. It used to be part of the
‘real’ Intercontinental, but only from 1969, when its doors first
opened, until 1980 (shortly after the Soviet Union intervention in
Afghanistan). Now, it is a state-owned property, described as
‘luxury’ only by outsiders who are covering Afghanistan from
afar. You can get a room there for a mere $50 if you negotiate very
hard, and for $60 if your bargaining skills are somewhat limited.
hotel had already been damaged on several occasions, particularly
during the civil war of the 1990s, when it is said that at one point
only 85 out its 200 rooms were inhabitable. As recently as 2011, 21
people died here during an attack for which the Taliban claimed
its macabre history, however, Intercontinental is still the favorite
property of many locals and some foreigners in Kabul. This is where
many conferences are held, and – during the fasting month of
Ramadan – fast is broken here by members of local elites, close to
the swimming pool overlooking the city. And there is music here
almost every night: true Afghan traditional music, with local
instruments and singers trained by renowned masters.
is, of course, everywhere. To return to this property from the city,
I always have to go through three full security posts with my car.
After all, Afghanistan is now considered one to be one of the most
dangerous countries on Earth for foreigners.
just one week, three deadly attacks shook Afghanistan: one in Kabul,
another outside Herat, and a third inside the city of Jalalabad, in
which ISIS targeted the NGO, Save the Children.
displaced woman shares her story with us. (Photo: Andre Vltchek)
year, I traveled to many corners of this scarred, ancient land. I
spoke to people, including those in the villages that were at least
partially taken over by Taliban. People are increasingly realizing
that they are living in perpetual conflict. Refugees (or internally
displaced persons) from the east are talking about the carnage that
comes with the arrival of ISIS.
drugs and poppy seeds are everywhere in the center of Kabul, right
under the nose of the US occupiers – poppy fields literally
surround Bagram Airforce Base.
and Russians are now remembered with love and great nostalgia;
something that I already described in my previous essays from the
soon, no foreigners will be left in Afghanistan. That may be the main
goal of the latest attacks. No witnesses, no alternatives, no
will benefit? Definitely not the devastated Afghan people. Perhaps
the warlords, the extremist mullahs, and the occupiers.
Air crew, flying passenger jets all over the country, and the
dilapidated Intercontinental were some of the last symbols of
normality – a weak promise that one can still come and see what is
really happening in this country.
now on, there will be hardly any foreigners in the country. It will
be only us – war correspondents, as well as foreign soldiers and
is now facing mortal danger. It has to survive, but it is not clear
how it could manage. Those who love it should return, no matter what
risk we’d be facing. A news blockade should be prevented.
Alternative (non-Western) information has to flow. By all means, at
Vltchek is a philosopher, novelist, filmmaker and investigative
journalist. He has covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries.
Three of his latest books are his tribute to “The
Great October Socialist Revolution” a revolutionary
novel “Aurora” and
a bestselling work of political non-fiction: “Exposing
Lies Of The Empire”. View
his other books here.
Gambit, his groundbreaking documentary about Rwanda and DRCongo
and his film/dialogue with Noam Chomsky “On
Western Terrorism”. Vltchek presently resides in East Asia and
the Middle East, and continues to work around the world. He can be
reached through his website and