This email comes via an aonymous westerner who was worked extensively in Afghanistan for about a decade. In case anyone somehow divines the western’s identity, these views are the westerner’s alone, and not representative of the westerner’s employer. —eds.
josh, re the kabul liquor raids, i’d say this:
it was not a surprise that l’atmosphere was raided. the surprise was that it took so long to happen. the raid itselfwas probably predictable.
yes, it’s sad. but the sadness is that part of the raid was heavy-handed or even criminal — if the waitresses were violated as reported.
there are other ways for a governing force to implement shifts in what will be socially tolerated. and then to allow the necessary little vents. hell, it’s long been possible to get cold beer even in gaza, under the nose of hamas. and the northern alliance home team helped score cheap vodka for visitor’s western habits — in 2001. similarly, in 2001-2002, a western alcoholic i know suffered only a little in jalalabad. when he asked hard enough, and paid enough, whiskey for him appeared. courtesy of the muj.
eight years later, it’s not really sad that l’atmoshphere has had part of its business plan slapped.
that part of the business plan — selling insane amounts of booze publicly to westerners at night while running a mediocre restaurant, and a big patio, thereby creating a place for journalists and contractors and diplomats to arrange, um, crosspollination — was in no one’s interest besides the owners and whoever was getting paid to protect them.
a raid — or worse, a bomb — has felt inevitable for years.
l’atmosphere was always the perfect symbol for anyone who wanted to smack around the idea of the west. that’s why it’s a rational target for the government if the government wants to flex some muscles.
have you been there? in its context, the place was, in a word, disgusting.
it was embarrassing to go there at night and see how many patrons acted – like children, basically, spoiled children — and to think that the afghan staff was watching it all. word of the nighttime nuttiness at the bar certainly traveled outside the place’s blast walls. and it certainly did no good to the western reputation. it was like the worst college club on earth.
i’m no puritan. but drinking while working has its places. and when in afghanistan, westerners, if they want to get drunk, should not cluster and misbehave so flagrantly in groups in front of afghans. kabul is not tehran. there is no large local population, no big “sector” outside of foreigners and a few of their lackeys, that wants places like that.
the military has it right — when in afghanistan, keep it dry, or at least create the appearance of sobriety and restraint.
i don’t expect ngos, journalists , contractors and diplomats to follow a no-alcohol policy. too many of them lack the discipline and they tend to set themselves above rules. and they like their social salons. but they should at least be sane enough to keep things lower-key than supporting cattle-call drinking sessions at the ankles of a weak government that is trying to fight off an islamic insurgency. if i were a western ambassador, i would have led an effort to ban all diplomatic presence in any restaurant or club given to the atmosphere at ‘latmosphere.
you know what was also embarrassing? i read somewhere — was it on registan? — that a “longtime scribe” called the place “a barometer” of the western presence.
my first reaction was to wonder who that scribe is, and what kind of field reporting he/she does. my second reaction was to think that maybe, accidentally, that remark has it right. and it’s another of the many reasons there has been so little real traction in winning over afghans over the years, at least not nationally.
the liquor raids have a character that is very disturbing. what they show of police conduct is a disgrace, though also unsurprising. but the decision to put pressure on clubs that mint their coins by providing atmospheres that are counterproductive to the efforts to help a shaky government and to align more closely with the afghan population? this is arguably good afghan policy.
let everyone who thinks they love l’atmosphere howl that it is hard to find a place to drink and screw. boo-hoo. as a drinking hole, the place undermines what the west is trying in the short-term to do.
Just to clarify, I don’t believe any writer on Registan.net has ever called l’atmosphere a “barometer” of anything. —eds.