For most people Friday's bombing was probably a blip on the international news radar screen, if they noticed at all. For me this one hit home. For two reasons.
First, I spent many a pleasant hour in what truly was an oasis in the often dreary, razor-wire adorned Kabul grind. It was a warm and lively place. Seductive, smoky, mysterious, like only a tucked-away restaurant in the middle of a war zone can be. Full of diplomats, aid workers, UN officials, local power players, spies, military contractors and all the other weirdos who call the world's terrains vagues their home. The articles comparing Taverna du Liban to Casablanca's "Rick's Cafe" are, albeit nostalgic, not that far off. It was indeed a special place.
Its charming Lebanese owner Kamal, was a salt of the earth kind of guy, who cared as much about serving luscious chocolate cake as he did about keeping his rifle ready to defend his patrons, should the need arise. The food was solid. The atmosphere was one you won't forget. For me, my memories of Taverna are as much Afghanistan as those of the Ghazni Plains, the mountains in the north, opium fields, splattered bodies, lush valleys, bullet riddled walls, purple fields, IEDs, dusty bazaars, opium junkies in dirty Kabul alleys, and dying children in their grieving parents' arms.
And now, it too is a place where many good people died. People with their hearts in the right spot. Ruthlessly ripped from this world. Killed by Pakistani-made car bombs? Shot with AK-47 rounds indirectly paid for by American tax dollars?
I won't forget this place. It was a special place. The pillows and embroidered table mats made by Afghan women that add much needed color to my living room will remind me. I bought them from an acquaintance at Taverna. One displays a hand-sewn peace dove. Elegant. And now, morbidly cynical. My rugged Afghan scarf will remind me, too. I scored it at an impromptu boutique at Taverna and now it shields me from the frigid New York wind. I will remember the many good hours at a restaurant that was so much more than just a restaurant.
A culinary oasis, cultural center, romantic hideaway, incubator, where people, though jaded from the realities of modern war, came together because they hadn't yet given up on peace, and sought out others like them. Folks came to broker deals or fall in love. They came to keep the fragile flame of Afghan peace alive. A place where discussion was vivid and loud and jovial. A rustic tavern with a bulky Mastiff at the door. A place like from a spy novel. And like a novel: An illusion. Fiction. The second reason this one hits home.
The bombing is a bitter reminder of rampant self-deception in occupied Kabul, with its "Ring of Steel," and police checkpoints. A place where I myself became guilty of the perpetuation of talking vs. doing. It's a wake up call and broad hint to the fact that crunch time has begun. An indicator that the bribes that kept the expat-frequented restaurants and bars safe from Taliban attacks are drying up or being overbid. A reminder that there really is no safe mingling spot in Afghanistan for Westerners, progressive Afghans, and agents of change and development on the mere account of the presence of foreigners.
Afghanistan never didn't belong to Afghans, and neither did its destiny. The current understanding of security in Afghanistan is a farce and western-financed dog and pony show and it will end this year. The bombing is a wakeup call for the UNs, IMFs, hoards of diplomats, good-doers, foreign militaries, Afghan officials (corrupt and otherwise), and all the other stakeholders in the life-belting of Afghanistan, away from the abyss of civil war and chaos. A shrill alarm to sober up, end the horse crap, halt the gravy train, and cut the sham.
Right now is the time to shut up, listen to the people who know Afghanistan best (Afghans), and learn from 12 years of mistakes, lest they be for nothing. They don't have to be. The blood, treasure, and minds lost, don't have to be. The golden opportunity to do a lot with very little is right in front of us, if only it is ceased. The chance to finally change tack.
"Non-essential-personnel-out-of-the-f***ing-building," time has begun with a loud bang at my favorite eatery in Wazir Akbar Khan. It's time for the surgeons, Afghan and international, to glove up and sharpen their scalpels.
There is something utterly clarifying about the very last minute, when you accept that it has arrived. Nothing is too late in Afghanistan, but now everything is on the line. Money, troops, and foreign bureaucracies withdrawing are not the death knell for Afghanistan, but a bugle call for the many Afghans and few foreigners required to get the job done. Finesse, boldness, and common sense will bring this one home. With resolve, success will come.
Do mourn the 21 dead from Friday and cherish their illustrious lives, but acknowledge their place as harbingers for a window of opportunity not to be wasted. Lest the ones that died in Afghanistan and the ones that live on her soil, do so in vain. Kamal, to you: Best hummus in Kabul, hands down. Much love, you earned your place among the brave.