Can Taliban and non-Taliban work together as colleagues? Today, you can see this big experiment in action inside the Hotel Intercontinental Kabul, Afghanistan’s first high-end hotel and a legendary meeting place over the decades for foreign leaders, elites, and well-to-do Afghans. Even when Afghanistan has spiraled into violence and war, the posh hotel “remained in a world of its own,” writes Andreas Babst, a correspondent for German publication Neue Zürcher Zeitung. These days, however, the hotel is pretty quiet.
Babst reports on what it’s like to work at the Intercontinental, speaking to both Taliban and non-Taliban employees—the marketing manager, the human resources manager, the head chef, the hotel president—as well as an Afghan family from Canada staying at the hotel. It’s a fascinating account of the hotel’s role throughout the country’s history and a rare look inside the day-to-day operations of a Taliban-controlled business.
On the fifth floor, on the right, at the end of the long corridor, is the Khyber Suite, the Intercontinental’s penthouse. A balcony winds around the suite, allowing guests a view over all of Kabul. Right now, the U.N. is hosting a course: how to solve interpersonal conflicts. Here, Massoud is said to have planned his attacks with binoculars. Until 1996, when new, even more radical Islamists came from the south and conquered Kabul for the first time: the Taliban. They castrated and executed Najibullah, the ex-president with the Mercedes, dragged his body around the city and hanged him in public. The Taliban removed the chairs in the hotel bar and sat on carpets.
There are no windows in this long corridor on the fifth floor. Neon lights on the walls brace themselves against the darkness. They cast harsh shadows. Sounds and history sink into the stretch carpet. It smells like dust and something else, sour. The hotel’s employees don’t like to be on the fifth floor. It’s haunted up here, they say.