Photos: Taliban feel at home in strongman’s mansion

Taliban fighters have seized the dazzling Kabul mansion from one of their fiercest enemies – strongman and fugitive former Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum.

Now in the hands of grassroots Taliban fighters, the opulent village has given fighters a glimpse into the lives of Afghanistan’s former rulers, saying the luxury is the product of years of endemic corruption.

Along an endless corridor with a thick apple green carpet, a young fighter sleeps slumped on a sofa, his Kalashnikov rifle propped against him, while exotic fish glide over him in one of the seven giant tanks.

The fighter is part of the personal security detachment of Salahuddin Ayoubi, one of the most powerful commanders in the new regime, who installed his 150-man company in the mansion on August 15, the day Kabul fell.

The luxury AFP news agency saw on a tour of the mansion would be unimaginable to most Afghans.

Huge glass chandeliers hang in cavernous hallways, large soft sofas furnish a maze of lounges, and an indoor pool is finished with intricate turquoise tiles.

It even has a sauna, a Turkish steam bath and a fully equipped gym.

It is an out of this world experience for the new occupants, who for years sacrificed comforts for rebellion, living off their wits in the plains, valleys and mountains of rural Afghanistan.

But the new head of the family, now a military commander of four provinces, makes it clear that his men will not get used to luxury.

“Islam never wants us to have a luxurious life,” Ayoubi told AFP, adding that luxury comes in paradise, “life after death.”

The mansion’s owner, Dostum, is a notorious figure woven into the fabric of recent Afghanistan history.

Former paratrooper, communist commander, strongman and vice president, he was the very definition of a cunning political survivor who endured more than four decades of conflict in war-torn Afghanistan.

Despite a series of war crimes related to Dostum’s forces, the former Afghan government hoped that their military acumen and seething hatred for the Taliban would help them survive.

But his fortress was overrun and the gray-haired 67-year-old fled across the border into Uzbekistan.

Dostum is widely suspected of profiting enormously from the corruption and embezzlement that discredited the previous government.

Several officials illegally seized land to build luxurious mansions in a neighborhood, earning it the nickname “Thieves’ Quarter” among residents.

In one wing of the huge house, the Taliban fighters relaxed in a huge tropical greenhouse measuring several hundred square meters under a massive glass roof.

That’s overlooked by a mezzanine dominated by a dark wood bar, a testament to the reported decadent tastes of a general known for his fondness for nights out and hard liquor.

The Taliban have 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 could have destroyed them, ”he said.

But the new regime will not allow that luxury to be built on ill-gotten gains in the future, he said.

“We are on the side of the poor,” he says.

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