September 1996 – An evening with a female Afghan student So at least for now, the Taliban have won their war. From now on we are visitors in a state called “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”. Very quickly we realise that life here in the capital and probably in many regions of Afghanistan changes from one
September 1996 – An evening with a female Afghan student
So at least for now, the Taliban have won their war. From now on we are visitors in a state called “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”. Very quickly we realise that life here in the capital and probably in many regions of Afghanistan changes from one day to the next. Islamic laws – or what the Taliban think they are – are introduced and enforced.
These new rules, which are binding for all, are published through posters, preached in mosques and broadcast on the radio stations of RTA (Radio Television Afghanistan). Surely there are many people here in Kabul who welcome these new laws – perhaps just because they expect them to finally bring peaceful times.
The main rules are as follows:
- Females are forbidden to work outside their own home. Nurses in the women’s wards of hospitals are exempt from this.
- Schools for girls are closed with immediate effect. Persons of the female sex are forbidden to go to school/university.
- Men are forbidden to shave their beard.
- Women have to wear a burka in public.
- Women are not allowed to leave the house without male company. The escort must be either father, husband or brother.
- Television, cinema and theatre performances are not allowed. The facilities are to be destroyed.
- The possession of television and video equipment is punishable by law.
- The possession of tape recorders and music cassettes is punishable by law.
- Listening to music is only permitted if it is religious music.
- Flying of kites is forbidden under penalty for everyone.
- Any form of play or sport in public is not permitted.
- The depiction of the human body in films, photographs or drawings is punishable by law.
- Failure to observe the prayer times will be punished.
- From now on, the Sharia law will apply throughout Afghanistan.
I hope and think that these “laws” cannot be enforced and believe that many Afghans will resist. But already on the first day after the decrees were published, I am taught better.
We are on our way with Kemal and his taxi. Near the big mosque in Shar-E-Naw there is a crowd of people. In the distance screaming can be heard. Of course we want to know what is happening – and this time I am very happy that Orhan leaves the camera in the car. In the middle of the human cauldron lies a man on the hood of a car. Two others with long black robes and black turbans hold him, while a third with an elastic rod whips on the back of the person. The clothes are already shredded, the skin underneath burst open. As inconspicuously as possible, Kemal asks what is happening here. Back in the car he reports: “The man who is being punished by the new police is a barber and has a hairdresser’s shop. Customers have been shaved there today – and that is now forbidden. On the spot he was sentenced to 20 blows from a stick.” If the new Taliban government follows its rules this way, then they will nip any resistance in the bud, I fear.
I am very queasy when I think that it is our task to report on such actions. The question is whether this would be possible without danger for Orhan, Ali, our driver and me. How will the new rulers behave when they see us with the camera?
On the way back to the Turkish embassy there is another cruel scene. Near the presidential palace there is a traffic junction, which is overlooked by a small house standing on a concrete pedestal, which is used by policemen to observe the traffic. With a short rope around his neck, a male corpse dangles down, three or four meters above the street. It is Mohammed Najibullah, one of the presidents of Afghanistan at the time of the Soviet occupation. We ask Kemal, our driver, to find out more about Najibullah’s death. In the late afternoon he comes back with a full note. Nadjib, as the ex-president was called by the population, had long ago sought and found shelter in a United Nations building. As the Taliban troops moved closer to Kabul, his old arch-enemy Ahmed Shah Masoud wanted to help him leave the country. Najib refused, trusting in the fairness of the Islamic Taliban. On 27 September, they forcibly removed him from the UN building, neutered him, dragged him to death behind a vehicle, and hanged him on the traffic control post.
For a few days, we’ll shoot any events only from a distance. We also decided to sleep in the bunker of the Turkish embassy until further notice. We don’t really trust peace and most hotels are closed anyway. We asked Kemal to find a woman with whom we could do an interview. I want to know how she deals with the new situation. Not so easy, because she is not allowed to talk to strangers and certainly not in front of a camera.
Kemal, the “simple” taxi driver, is really good! Two days later he finds a young woman who had studied at the university in her second semester and is no longer allowed to do so. Much better: she should speak English and even some German. Her father, a university teacher, agrees with the interview, but demands that we come into his house completely unobtrusively and without a visible camera. We have an appointment for tomorrow evening at seven o’clock.
The family lives in the district of Wazir-Akhbar-Khan, an area with several embassy buildings, villas of wealthy citizens and even a modern public swimming pool. Long destroyed in the battles of the past years. A visit to our interview partner requires careful planning. We need two more taxis and two backpacks. Orhan goes first with Kemal, our confidant. The camera is hidden in a backpack and cannot be seen as such from the outside. Then, 15 minutes later, in another car, Ali sets off. Cassettes and batteries are in his pocket. Another quarter of an hour later I am on my way. Also with backpack. In it is everything we need for the sound: Microphone, windscreen, mixer and I’ve got some presents for the family. Around eight o’clock we are gathered in the villa. Waslat, as our protagonist is called, is already sitting on one of the low sofas. The way she looks, she would fit into any European city. Blue jeans, a white T-shirt, discreet make-up and flowing black hair. Her father joins us, apparently really happy about our visit, speaks perfectly English with only a slight accent.
Just like his daughter. In German she apologises for wanting to speak English with us. The camera is already running and Orhan tries to get by with the little light available. Waslat graduated from Amani High School about a year ago. Until a few weeks ago she went to the University of Kabul, where she studied law. According to Waslat, teaching was only possible to a very limited extent because parts of the university had been destroyed. She also believes that the university was a preferred target for the Taliban, since Ahmed Shah Masoud, Taliban’s worst enemy, studied there.
The school which Waslat graduated from was opened as early as April 1924, founded by King Amanullah with the help of the German government and German funds. For decades, the language of instruction was exclusively German in order to enable the pupils to study in Germany. The hope of the Afghan government was to get highly qualified specialists for the development of the country this way. Later, only part of the teaching was in German, the other part in Dari. During the fighting for Kabul the school was damaged several times – nevertheless the lessons continued.
While Waslat tells that she is not allowed to go on learning under the new government, her tears come. Tears of rage, she says, “Women are not only there to cook and have children,” she raves and confirms that she will not give up her plan to become a judge or lawyer. “I’m not even allowed to go out on the street alone now. If I want to see a restaurant from the inside, I probably have to go abroad.” Then she pulls out a pale blue bundle of cloth behind her back and unfolds it. It’s a burka. “I have to wear this rag outside the house all the time. I can hardly see anything with it. This morning I almost ran into a tree.” The student has talked herself into rage and throws the burka into a corner. “That’s shit!” she curses. In German.
The door to the hall opens, Waslat’s brother sticks his head in and says only one word: “Taliban”. Waslat jumps after her burka, grabs her and pants into the garden through a flap in the outer wall. Her father tells Orhan to hide the camera under a thick blanket. I know something like this flap, through which our interviewee has just disappeared, from Germany. Much smaller and made for cats. Here it is an escape route for people.
There are male voices in the hallway. Three or four people? One of the voices belongs to Waslat’s brother, the others seem to be persuading him. It gets louder, doors slam, Orhan is extremely nervous.
The next chapter of my Afghanistan Diary will be published on 23 July 2019. It’s title will be “September/October 1996 – A German school in the middle of Kabul”. New chapters will follow fortnightly – more than 60 will be published in total. Please scroll further down for subscription.
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 first trip to Afghanistan started in the early summer of 1973. Since then I have been to the country at the Hindu Kush more than 100 times and in total have spent several years in Afghanistan. I got to know all political systems from the kingdom up to the today’s Islamic Republic. In about 60 chapters, based on diaries and memories, I describe my experiences in the country, which has not come to a rest since 1973. 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