Party ends in Kabul as expat era fades

Party ends in Kabul as expat era fades

The tennis club is deserted, the pool-side French restaurant is closed and picnic trips are cancelled.

The US-led war in Afghanistan brought a flood of international aid workers, diplomats and security contractors to Kabul, creating a frenetic social scene that is now a distant memory.

A series of Taliban attacks on expat hang-outs shattered any illusion that foreign civilians were safe in the city, and the places still open have empty tables.
As the US and its allies officially end their 13-year war on December 31, Afghanistan appears in the grip of worsening violence and the remaining foreign workers have retreated further inside fortified compounds.

“I used to employ 28 people a year ago. Now I employ only eight,” an expat restaurant manager said. “I am married to an Afghan and I will stay, but we are very worried. We used to be so busy.

“All the aid groups and embassies had a list of places that their staff could go. Now everywhere is off-limits,” she said, gesturing to her deserted restaurant during lunchtime.

All-night parties with plenty of alcohol and a lot of young, single people were always incongruous in the capital of conservative Muslim Afghanistan, but now Kabul’s “Kabubble” —as it was known — has truly burst.

“The days of big parties ended long ago,” said Francesca Recchia, the Italian author of the Little Book of Kabul, a new collection of essays about the city. “Any social life is inside people’s houses or compounds. Of course, many internationals are restricted where they can visit, but some of us try to lead normal lives with Afghan friends.

“There are simply a lot less expats than the crazy days of 2008 or 2010, and those who are here you don't see out and about. There is a lot of fear.”

The final tipping point for many came in January 2014 when a Taliban attack on the popular Taverna du Liban restaurant killed 21 people, including 13 foreigners enjoying mezze and a discreet beer.

Among the dead were senior United Nations staff, European Union police officers, American teachers and British aid contractors. Today, the site is boarded up and abandoned.

Old expat haunts like French restaurant L’Atmosphere — once famed for its pool parties — have closed, and picnic trips to Qargha lake outside Kabul or to the Panjshir valley are now often deemed too risky.

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