Afghanistan – Chapter 1

In the Jail of the Taliban February 2001 – Reports from Afghanistan This can not be true! This person, dressed like a sheik from fairyland, wants to keep our camera here at the airport. And then my beard, which has been sprouting for four weeks. The itching of the growing hair on the face is

In the Jail of the Taliban

February 2001 – Reports from Afghanistan

This can not be true! This person, dressed like a sheik from fairyland, wants to keep our camera here at the airport. And then my beard, which has been sprouting for four weeks. The itching of the growing hair on the face is slowly getting unbearable.

Kay and I had come from Frankfurt with Emirates, the largest golf airline. Now we are in Dubai, a huge duty-free shop with an airport. Onward flight to Islamabad the next morning.

The airline pays the hotel and the transfer bus is waiting for us. In the bus the driver and around 40 passengers. Only Kay and I are still missing – but the customs-officers, in their dazzling white, flowing Kandoras, do not like our camera at all. Foreign TV cameras in the Emirates – where do we get to?

Clear message: either we stay at the airport for 14 hours, until our onward flight, or we go to the hotel and the camera stays here. We choose version two. With palpitations. If we do not get the camera back the next morning, shooting in Afghanistan could possibly burst. At least that’s how we feel – after all, we don’t know what to expect in Islamabad yet.

The people on the bus are unfriendly, the hotel, about 20 minutes away by bus, the nicer. Pick up the next morning at seven, breakfast from six. Departure at 09:30.

I do not know how many times Kay and I have worked together. In any case, whenever it could become dangerous we were working hand in hand.

“Fine lingerie” in a shop in Faizabad

The man from Hamburg is three years younger than me and has already done a lot of “exotic” jobs: candle vendor at Christmas markets, owner of a crèpe stall, sky-writer with his Cessna-172 aircraft, project manager at the institute for distance education and much more. At some point he started in the TV business and worked his way up to to become a cameraman. Today he is popular, sought after and really good at this job. We have known each other for 11 years, from the first Iraq war. Since then, we have also been best friends and had jobs in Somalia, Rwanda, Angola, the Kosovo War, Kenya and Djibouti, the Congo and in several other war and crisis areas, providing German television with pictures, tv reports and documentaries. Especially when things get difficult (and sometimes dirty), we rely on each other and I do not want to shoot with any other cameraman.

How good that next morning we get back in customs at the right time and ask for our camera. It’s still on the shelf, just as we put it off yesterday. We also have the pick-up slip – but it still needs two important signatures and that is not so easy, because the second authorised signatory is in a meeting or drinking tea or sick or perhaps just gone.

The air conditioning does not help either: Kay and I sweat as best we can. After just over an hour, everything clears up, the camera is ours again and the crew and passengers look at us with poisonous faces as we are the last to get on the plane.

Of course, there is no room left for the camera in the storage compartments above, so we take turns taking the fifteen kilo thing on our laps for three and a half hours.

The airport we land on was once the Chaklala Airbase, a major military airport, and only became the “Islamabad Airport” in the late 1960s. Only at this time, Islamabad was built almost out of nothing. An “artificial” capital such as Brasilia, Naypitaw, New Delhi or Astana. The replacement for Pakistan’s former capital Karachi. Even today, the airport is much closer to the old town of Rawalpindi, which is about three times the size of Islamabad.

With the visa for Pakistan already issued in Germany, passport control is lightning fast, our camera equipment is something the customs officers do not even care of. The Marriott Hotel, where a room was booked for us, has its own transfer bus and despite the chaotic traffic, about 20 minutes later we reach the hotel. The editorial staff back home called it a “luxury hotel”, grudgingly reserved. They only had it booked on the condition that Kay and I share a room. “Too expensive otherwise…”.


The next chapter of my Afghanistan Diary will be published on 15 August 2018. It will be titled “September 1996 – Madrassas in Pakistan”
New chapters will follow fortnightly – more than 60 will be published in total.


Dieter Herrmann, the author of this Afghanistan diary, lives in Australia, reports from there for German television stations and is editor-in-chief of the only German-language newspaper in Australia.
He is known as a media trainer for radio and television stations all over the world as well as media trainer for senior managers, officers and pilots.
To get in touch with the author and for further information on media training by Dieter and his crew please use the “contact”-button or send an email to dieter(at)australia-news.de (please replace the (at) with the @-sign!)


My diary begins in February 2001, almost exactly seven months before the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and other institutions in the USA. After a long wait, my cameraman and I manage to get a visa for the country ruled by the Taliban. We get it from at the Afghan Embassy in Islamabad/Pakistan.

In about 60 chapters I describe my experiences in the country at the Hindu Kush from 1973 and the fall of the king, throughout the time under the Taliban regime to the time of Western military operations and attempted democratisation.

Among many other experiences, I was arrested and imprisoned twice during this time, had to live temporarily in the bunker of the Turkish embassy and had an amazing interview with Mullah Muttawakil, the personal spokesman for Taliban leader Mullah Omar and later Taliban Foreign Minister.

I describe my personal feelings and doubts as well as political and human events, movements in the population and developments in the country.

Nothing about this manuscript has been invented or added – however, to avoid endangering anyone, I left out some of my experiences. I changed some names to protect friends and informants.

Whether the last chapter will ever be finished is questionable. I was supposed to be back in Kabul in 2018, but the security situation is so bad that my clients are unlikely to get me into the country. “German media trainer murdered by Taliban” would be a catastrophic headline for everyone involved.

Dieter Herrmann

Translation from German to English with the help of www.deepl.com

 

 

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February 2001 – A visa for the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan It’s Wednesday night and it’s great to relax by the pool of the Marriott Hotel. The food from the buffet has always been very tasty here and in the cellar there is a small bar which you can enter after presenting your foreign passport.

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