Guest Post: The Darkest Side of Kabul’s Restaurant Raids

by Joshua Foust on 4/20/2010 · 31 comments

This is a guest post by an author who goes by the name of “Kabul expat.”

Last week, four of Kabul’s most popular alcohol-serving restaurants were raided in quick succession, sending chills through the expat community.

The story of the raids then took a dramatically darker turn on April 17, when Jerome Starkey of the Times broke the news that waitresses arrested during the raids were subjected to forced gynecological exams.

Afghanistan’s “vice and virtue” police have raided Western bars and restaurants in Kabul, seizing thousands of gallons of alcohol and arresting at least six waitresses, accusing them of being prostitutes.

In scenes reminiscent of the Taleban, officers armed with AK47 rifles targeted four well-known nightspots on Monday night and Tuesday morning, calling them “centres of immorality”. The French owner of one of Kabul’s best-known bars was also detained.

The waitresses, from an upmarket restaurant popular with diplomats, were forced to undergo intrusive medical tests to ascertain whom they might have been sleeping with, police officials said. Friends said that the women, from Eastern Europe and Central Asia, were still in shock last night.

The Afghan police and intelligence service are notorious for sexually abusing Afghan women in their custody, and the use of forced gynecological exams to intimidate women suspected of “moral crimes” is a long-standing human rights violation in this country.

In a recent Human Rights Watch report on Afghan women, a Kabul-based lawyer described the gruesome practice:

We worked with a girl who had run away from home. She had terrible problems with her family, and she went to police. The police immediately accused her of having committed zina [adultery]. She said she hadn’t, but they insisted on performing an examination. Three of them put her on the table and made her take off her clothes, and touched her, calling it a medical examination, and claiming to be doctors. She was terrified. What could she do? Nothing ever happened to these men.

It is a safe bet that nothing will happen to the men who ordered and performed the “tests” on the arrested waitresses last week, save perhaps promotions for striking hard at sources of “immorality.”

Starkey’s Times article is the first clear indication that foreign women were subjected to the abuse described in HRW’s report, and a grim sign of things to come, according to one analyst quoted in Global Post’s piece the raids.

“Karzai is pushing up a show to convince Hizb-i Islami [a militant group led by powerbroker Gulbuddin Hekmatyar] and the Taliban that he can turn the system ‘Islamic.”

There’s nothing Islamic about sexually assaulting women in police custody, but that certainly never stopped Gulbuddin Heckmatyar or the Taliban leadership from using religion and “morality” to justify violations of women’s fundamental human rights, including bodily integrity.

In Kabul, there is spreading fear among Afghans and foreigners alike that the small, imperfectly liberal gains of the past eight and a half years are in their last days, and a new era of repression is on the horizon.


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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 30 comments }

reader April 20, 2010 at 6:39 pm

Is anyone surprised? Honestly? The Parliament just signed a bill granting amnesty to war criminals, they wanted to pass a bill allowing men to starve their wives for refusing to do their conjugal duty. Folks, the Taliban did not descend on Afghanistan from the moon.
But while we are on the subject of waitresses, would anyone care to comment on the rumor of Chinese waitresses/prostitutes in Kabul? A little human trafficking and harmless prostitution?

Kabul expat April 21, 2010 at 12:06 am

Reader,

The Chinese restaurants were raided at least a year ago, when I was not here. According to Kabul long-termers I’ve spoken to, those establishments were always seen as suspicious, and the only foreigners who patronized them were private security contractors. I’ve also heard the trafficking and prostitution stories, from both expats and Afghans. Sex was probably being sold at those places, and it was probably a mix of consensual and forced sex work, as tends to be the case in such situations. In any case, virtually nothing was written about the treatment of the women arrested at the Chinese restaurants in that sweep of raids. One can only guess that is wasn’t kind.

The restaurants raided recently were the ones ‘normal’ expats (aid workers, diplomats, and journalists) frequently ate and drank at. I personally went to two of them often. The prostitution allegations this time around are almost certainly baseless, but that’s beside the point. Even if the women arrested had been sex workers, and again, there’s no evidence of that, it would still have been just as wrong for the authorities to abuse them in custody.

Toryalay Shirzay April 21, 2010 at 12:48 am

This episode should convince you that Afghanistan is an evil and sick society through and through.And the sad fact is the US/NATO continue to prop up this dark satanic society.What good is it to sacrifice all those soldiers and all those resources if not for defeating evil in Afghanistan,What a shame! DAMN SHAME!!!!!!

Kabul expat April 21, 2010 at 1:20 am

You’re kidding, right?

Michael Hancock April 21, 2010 at 1:23 am

Welcome to Registan. Keep your arms and legs inside the car at all times. Buckle your safety belt.

Mark April 21, 2010 at 2:10 am

The US is a particularly evil and sick society. So I guess any country in thethe rest of the world then has free reign to impose their own moral standards on the US, as well as invade it, loot it, subjugate it, install a puppet government, plunge the population into poverty and opium growing, and bomb a few US cities killing women and children as collateral damage in the process. There is nothing worse than the barbaric arrogance and hypocrisy of the US and its NATO stooges who follow evil like sheep.

Kabul expat April 21, 2010 at 3:17 am

Mazar Sharif. Summer of 1998. Crack open a history book.

There IS something worse.

another Mark April 21, 2010 at 3:38 am

Expat, why read books when you can just listen to Rage Against the Machine?

anan April 21, 2010 at 5:26 pm

:LOL: This whole conversation . . . its awesome.

Boratino are you an Afghan like Toryalay Shirzay.

Kabul expat, Toryalay Shirzay is a secular patriotic Afghan who doesn’t like the religious extremists or Pakistan very much. Afghans can be acerbic when describing their own country; much like Americans or Russians or Indians can be. All of us share an occasional desire to rail at the negative aspects of our own country.

Toryalay Shirzay, did you back Najibullah? Forgive me brother Shirzay if I offend you. Is it possible that you are painting Islam with too broad a brush? The Sufi tradition, including the Chishtī Order are also a major part of the Afghan ethos.

Personally I have a lot of respect for Abu Ishaq Shami, Moinuddin Chishti, Rumi (from Iran) and the other great Sufi saints. Aren’t there many good muslims too, in addition to the bad ones?

I know the corruption in Afghanistan offends you. Yes Afghans have to fix the corruption problem. Is speaking harshly to your fellow Afghans the best way to fix it?

anan April 21, 2010 at 5:40 pm

Mark, I don’t think you understand how horrible things were in 2001. For all Afghanistan’s many problems; Afghanistan is much richer today, with much better health care and life expectancy (thanks to lower infant mortality.)

Afghanistan had about 900,000 boys in school and few girls in school in 2001. Today there are 2.5 million girls in school and 4.5 million boys in school.

Afghanistan use to have about 1 thousand freshman in college in 2001 compared to 40 thousand today.

The negative side is that almost everything is paid for by foreign grants. GIRoA revenue = $600 million/year compared to steady state expenditures of $10,000 to $15,000 million/year.

Who is Karzai a puppet of? He has substantial support from Iran (going back before 2001), Russia, Turkey, India . . . and possibly China. He is opposed by most ISAF nations other than Turkey. Karzai’s political base in Afghanistan are the hazara Shia; although he also retains considerable Turkmen, Uzbek (Dostum rocks!) and Pashtun support. Karzai is weakest with Tajiks because of the election fiasco . . . but the Tajiks hate the Takfiri and the Taliban.

“invade it, loot it, subjugate it” . . . for the international community to invade Afghanistan; the GIRoA can’t invite them in. What non Afghans are looting Afghanistan? Do you refer to the levies charged by Pakistan and Central Asian countries for supplies to go back and forth between Afghanistan and the rest of the world?

When was Afghanistan “subjugated?” Even the Taliban for all their cruelty and Arab/Pakistani support couldn’t subjugate Afghanistan.

Who do you think controls Afghanistan? A faction in the GIRoA? ANP? 114,000 ANA? 46 country ISAF?

“NATO stooges” now you have lost it. Is Turkey a “stooge?” Turkey had special forces in Afghanistan before 9/11 and isn’t in Afghanistan for anyone other than Turkey. Do you think Japan is giving the Afghans $8 billion in grants because they are a stooge? Are South Koreans stooges? Australians? Dutch? Italians? Germans? French? Brits? Canadians? Poles?

Do you really think that anyone can control all of them? Are you implying that they are controlled by the “Jews” or some other nonsense?

reader April 21, 2010 at 6:31 pm

Now anan, don’t go painting all sufis with a broad brush. Not all sufis were peace-loving, ecumenical types. Some were corrupt power mongers and some were puritanical. In fact, the Taliban have a sort of connection to the Naqshbandiyya through the Deobandis and back to Sirhindi.

Turgai Sangar April 26, 2010 at 2:48 am

This might be of interest.

Sufism and the Revival of the Ummah
http://www.khilafah.com/index.php/comment/6741-sufism-and-the-revival-of-the-ummah

It’s about attempts to recuperate/co-opt ‘Sufism’ by the neocons, Karimov etc… against so-called ‘extremism’ (cf. this controversial Sufi Muslim Council for instance). And yes, many much-idealised Sufi traditionalists, like the much-heralded ‘tribal elders’, are corrupt and lost the initiative long ago.

kration April 21, 2010 at 2:23 am

You mentioned warlord, but could someone else be whispering in karzai ear?.

jonathan p April 21, 2010 at 10:48 am

You mean like Bitch Russia, or NATO stooges, or maybe even the devil himself?? I love this threat, er, thread!

Nobody April 21, 2010 at 7:53 pm

anan, the life expectancy in Afghanistan is 42.4 years, down from 44 years in 2006. This is not something to celebrate.

Second, I question the validity of any statistics given the difficulty of data collection. Regardless, it’s bad, although likely not as bad as 2001, it’s true.

Third, I too have been to three of the restaurants raided and I assure you they are nothing like the Chinese cat houses that got raided previously. There is no prostitution going on at Los Amigos or Boccaccio or L’Atmosphere, they are just restaurants whose chief sin is over-charging for mediocre fare.

So this is sexual assault, or ore likely rape, but that’s pretty common unfortunately. I feel very bad for those girls, I hope someone got them out. It’s very bad news for them if they’re still in custody. Does anyone know if they’re out?

Nobody April 21, 2010 at 8:21 pm

A superb piece by martine at afghan analysts network. Please read it.

Absolutely spot on – the constant, convinced view among Afghans that the war is a shell game… this has been a constant refrain for well over a year, profound and deep cynicism. Wonderful piece, very rare accurate insight into Afghan perspective

http://www.aan-afghanistan.org/index.asp?id=730

anan April 22, 2010 at 12:40 am

Thanks for the article Nobody:
“the foreigners are not weak, they are strong, they could bring stability if they wished, they are playing a clever game with us, they are creating excuses to stay in Afghanistan, and they are all conspiring together: Pakistan, the Taliban, and the internationals who say they have come to help”

Nobody, many Afghans seem to believe that the international community is secretly backing the Taliban and Al Qaeda; which in turn causes anger against ISAF.

Is there any way to turn this around? Or is the perception that ISAF back the Taliban and Al Qaeda too firmly entrenched?

Toryalay Shirzay April 21, 2010 at 10:12 pm

Anan, Rumi says he is not a Muslem in his own book.Sufis are quite pious during the day but at night and away from people ,they are very evil ,they pray for rich people to gain this woman or that boy by writing islamic religious words for their success in evil deeds and they also engage in molestation of young boys.They are very deceitful and outsiders completely miss this.Make no mistake: islam is indeed evil and harmful to people and society ;islam makes Afghanistan a backward,ignorant,poor and oppressed society.Islam rules by extreme fear,off with your head if you dare to disagree with it.This is why islam must be condemned in the strongest possible terms.

anan April 22, 2010 at 12:34 am

reader, I don’t consider Imām-i Rabbānī Shaykh Ahmad al-Farūqī al-Sirhindī, may peace be upon him, a real Sufi. It isn’t my intention to offend anyone and my sincere apologies if I did.

Sirhindi opposed wahdat al-wujūd or tawhīd-i wujūdi. [This might be translated as unity of being.]

Many Sufis such as Rumi (who Shirzay discusses above) and the Christi saints experienced and lived a truth that was beyond doctrine and religion. This is why so many nonmuslims flocked to them and continue to be moved they their stories, teachings and lives to this day.

Toryalay Shirzay, there is hypocrisy in every religion, every ethnicity and every country. Yes there is a little evil in almost all of us (with some exceptions such as Jesus, Buddha, Laozi, Zarathustra, the 24 Tirthankars, Bharata, and the ancient saints/prophets of many other religions.) If we focus on that evil then evil is all that exists. But there is good in everyone and everything too; even Sheytan/Lucifer.There have been many individual muslims in the past that have done terrible things [Mu’awiyah’s and Abd al-Malik’s treatment of nonmuslims, Shiites and Sufi alike for example.] But there have been great muslims too.

Were Mohammed, Fatimah, Ali, Khadija, Aisha, Abu Bakr, Hassan and Hussayn evil people?

Molestation of boys and the abuse of woman is bad beyond words. Everything you say is partly true.

Is the best way to change what we disagree with to use harsh words. Are we better off speaking the truth sweetly?

Nobody April 23, 2010 at 1:16 am

One of the most interesting and unexplored elements in all this is a reported division between the Brits and the Americans in Afg.

People there believe, BELIEVE man, in their souls, that the Brits are shipping Talibs around, especially in the north, to blow up the Americans.

Sounds really weird, huh? But anything in Afg is possible. The place is just so freaking weird. the paranoia is overwhelming there, mainly because the US policy prescription is INSANE. It makes no sense to anyone, at all, on the ground there. Therefore, any interpretation makes more sense than the reality – a bunch of goons, out of control, with guns, completely unsure what it is they’re doing – or supposed to do – with Afghans dying left, right and centre and who gives a crap.

There’s a US domestic political agenda beling played out in Afg that bears NO RELATION WHATSOEVER to what is actually happening there.

And by the way, apropos of nothing in particular, has anybody thought lately to remind McChrystal of the democratic requirement that the military remains subordinate to civilian control? What the hell is going on with McChrystal subverting state department control of the diplomatic mission there? Maybe somebody should tell him to crawl back into his bunker – along with his creepy one MRE a day and 8 mile run.

Nobody April 23, 2010 at 1:17 am

One of the most interesting and unexplored elements in all this is a reported division between the Brits and the Americans in Afg.

People there believe, BELIEVE man, in their souls, that the Brits are shipping Talibs around, especially in the north, to blow up the Americans.

Sounds really weird, huh? But anything in Afg is possible. The place is just so freaking weird. the paranoia is overwhelming there, mainly because the US policy prescription is INSANE. It makes no sense to anyone, at all, on the ground there. Therefore, any interpretation makes more sense than the reality – a bunch of goons, out of control, with guns, completely unsure what it is they’re doing – or supposed to do – with Afghans dying left, right and centre and who gives a crap.

There’s a US domestic political agenda beling played out in Afg that bears NO RELATION WHATSOEVER to what is actually happening there.

And by the way, apropos of nothing in particular, has anybody thought lately to remind McChrystal of the democratic requirement that the military remains subordinate to civilian control? What the hell is going on with McChrystal subverting state department control of the diplomatic mission there? Maybe somebody should tell him to crawl back into his bunker – along with his creepy one MRE a day and 8 mile run, or whatever it is he subjects himself to. May I ask – what the hell is wrong with a glass of wine at the end of a guns and ammo day? Live a little…

reader April 23, 2010 at 10:59 am

Nobody,

I believe Mr. Gates would rate your comment as “unhelpful.” Please sir, power of positive thinking and all that, we must keep grinning or else we will lose in Afghanistan which will then usher in an age of darkness and mayhem unseen in human history. Children will eat their parents, babies will be born with three heads, cows will cease giving milk, Eric Prince will supernaturally merge with Sen Chris Dodd to form PRODD, the dark god who will rule us all, demanding our firstborn and that girls must wear ski masks in any group larger than 2 people. Of course freedom will die, and Anti-Americanism will be the watch-word, a mantra taught in our schools by decadent faculties populated by former Taliban members and Alex Jones fans who will teach our three-headed mutant young to go attack Israel in a series of suicide missions. Robert Kaplan, Samantha Powers, and a host of other interventionist sages have warned us of such a dark future, but will we ever learn? When will we gloomy, surrender monkeys ever accept how evil and freedom-hating we are.

reader April 23, 2010 at 11:05 am

Forgot to add, just maybe if we can all be a little more David Brooksian we might be saved from our future demise at the hands of hordes of tinfoil hat wearing Iranian-backed militias. I for one will go genuflect in front of my Churchill shrine and pray to the gods of NATO that we will be kept safe.

Nobody April 23, 2010 at 8:41 pm

I know it’s daft isn’t it.

The problem of wacko entirely-detached-from-reality-inside-beltway thinking now seems to have infected the iran strike issue, with obama apparently showing more interest in this lunatic idea.

Here’s what happens if Israel strikes Iran: Hezbollah attacks, Syria attacks, Lebanon/Israel ignites, Bahrain falls, Strait of Hormuz closes, oil price spikes, US economy grinds to a halt, maybe even the Gulf is invaded and Saudi threatened.

All because Israel didn’t want Iran to have a medical isotope uranium switch, and refuses to believe that 20 percent enrichment is NOT easily weaponised HEU.

Unhelpful, Mr Gates? This isn’t UNHELPFUL it’s INSANE. Where is our leadership, for Christ’s sake? What is it with these LIES? Where are our reporters, our real, honest to goodness, truth telling, cassandra complex journos?

So having wrecked the middle east in Iraq, destroyed Central Asia with Afghanistan, the United States has now decided to destroy the entire region on behalf of a suicide mission by Israel. Here’s news: everyone hates America. Everyone is lining up against America. If America strikes Iran, the entire world will be lined up behind Iran, which, like it or not, is already the new middle east power broker.

The world is tired of arrogant incompetent dysfunctional and irrational US leadership. Nothing America says any more means anything. They’ve lied through their teeth so many times, not only are they lacking in credibility, they’re lacking in any relevance at all, except as a super-violent and irrational force that has to be guarded against at all costs.

Nobody April 23, 2010 at 2:27 pm

Check it out:

Richard Holbrooke as The New Ugly American.

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/LD24Df03.html

Akbar Khan II April 25, 2010 at 2:13 pm

I smell a dim-wit attempting to get recruited by the CIA through online islam bashing.

Toryalay Shirzay April 25, 2010 at 11:09 pm

Looks to me like this Paki Akber has been getting high on foul smelling islamic crap.

Akbar Khan II April 26, 2010 at 4:00 am

Teezana being an arm chair internet gangster is something even a pillow-biter is capable of, I dare you to utter the gibberish that you do in Afghanistan. 😉

Akbar Khan II April 26, 2010 at 4:06 am

Turgai Sangar,

Sufism is a selfish/individualistic practice. The retarded, corrupt and essentially Godless government of Pakistan has even setup a Sufi Advisory Council to neutralize people.

saba April 29, 2010 at 3:21 am

well…with all the chaos and lives wasted on a daily basis, I can’t seem to get myself to worry about the dignity of some prostitutes. is that bad?
and if it isn’t prostitution, why would an Italian restuarant in Kabul feel the need to import Russian waitresses? is it because Russian prostitutes are cheaper?
at best, Afghan law against prostitution was enforced. at worst, collatoral damage, as Mark put it. If having long beard and turban being in southern Afg is enough basis for one to be a talib, then mini skirts, cleavage exposure and occasional flirts in Afg well qualifies one as a prostitute. we’re all lost in translation.

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