October 1996 – Interview with Mullah Omar’s representative One thing must be left to the Taliban: they seem to be quick with building a government. In the Turkish embassy, in whose bunker we still live, we are told that we must report immediately to the new Foreign Ministry. “What do they mean by ‘immediately’?” I
October 1996 – Interview with Mullah Omar’s representative
One thing must be left to the Taliban: they seem to be quick with building a government. In the Turkish embassy, in whose bunker we still live, we are told that we must report immediately to the new Foreign Ministry. “What do they mean by ‘immediately’?” I want to know from Kemal, our driver. He shrugs his shoulders. “Who knows the new government? Perhaps best right now!” So after breakfast to the new, old Foreign Ministry in Wazir Akhbar Khan Street. Actually, it’s only a good five minutes walk to there. Kemal advises against this and also Necmettin, the caretaker here in the embassy, absolutely wants us to go the 500 meters by car. The outer wall of the park-like complex in which the ministry is located is partially destroyed. Shots from rifle and artillery rounds almost everywhere. The barrier at the porter’s lodge is curiously bent and no longer fulfils its purpose. Someone stops us and wants to see documents, but obviously can’t read. Anyway, he is holding my passport upside down. Kemal explains that we are Turkish journalists and have been asked to report here.In one of the buildings they seem to have set up a kind of press office. The man who just acted as if he were checking our passports and who of course didn’t notice that a “Turkish” journalist has a German passport, describes the way. It’s only a few minutes on foot and the office can’t be overlooked. A queue of maybe 20 foreigners wait in front of it, some with a TV camera in their hands. Obviously all media representatives, whose they could get hold of, were ordered in. In front of us in the queue is a team from TV5, the French-Belgian-Swiss channel that broadcasts worldwide in French. A reason for Ali, our Turkish producer, to be happy. He is not only French-speaking but also French-loving. The French crew also works together with a local. Kemal and Mukhim, the TV5 team member, exchange ideas.
According to the information we are now receiving, since the Taliban took power a few days ago, almost all officials who are not of Pashtoon descent have been dismissed. Hazara, Uzbeks and Tajiks had to leave their posts and were replaced by Pashtoons. The inevitable result must be that around half the population, namely those who do not speak Pashtoo, can no longer communicate with official bodies. The radio will continue to broadcast regularly that Sharia law applies throughout the country. This means, among other things, that death sentences can be imposed by stoning, that hands and/or feet can be amputated, and that people can be sentenced to stick or whip blows. A few days ago we witnessed such a punishment.
After a bit more than an hour, we are admitted to the new officials of the new authority. A wooden staircase leads to the first floor and there we enter a room with three desks. Ali will act as team leader here, as we agreed earlier. Perhaps, as a Muslim and Turk, he has better chances with the Taliban officials than I do, as a person from the West. It takes less than ten minutes and we have something like press cards. Without a passport photo but with the name and personal data. Written in pashtoo, without photo but with impressive stamp and important looking signature. And then Ali comes with the question that we had agreed upon before. We want an interview with a speaker or member of the new government. The answer comes completely relaxed: “Please go to the Turkish embassy where you live. You’ll be informed tonight.”
All three of us didn’t expect this: A messenger arrives before nightfall and leaves a message at Necmettin, the caretaker. Tomorrow morning at eight o’clock we are supposed to get our interview in the press department of the Foreign Ministry. With whom? We don’t know. Orhan checks the equipment. Video and sound have to be right to get a good interview. Batteries are charged again as a precaution, the lens is cleaned.Before eight o’clock we stand again at the porter’s lodge of the ministry. Kemal explains why we are here and we are allowed on the premises. There, where we only got our “press cards” yesterday, people are already waiting for us. Over a few corridors and stairs we are led into a hall-like room with a long window front. Wonderful! The windows go to the east, so that we will have bright sunlight for the interview. A little man with a long grey-blue shirt and a black jacket over it storms through the door towards Ali. “You will now meet Mullah Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil. He is the spokesperson of Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Emir of Afghanistan. And he will be our Foreign Minister in future.” “Thank you for the announcement,” replies Ali, “and you will translate for us?” No, he will not, is the answer, because our interviewee speaks fluent English.
And then comes the man we’re waiting for. Exceptionally tall for an Afghan, white traditional clothes and a light grey turban. He walks past us and the camera that has already been set up and sits down on a chair with his back to the window. Even as a non-cameraman I know: that’s not possible. The bright sunlight behind him makes his face look almost black. Orhan, the cameraman, says it in one word: useless. Ali tries to explain it to the mullah, asks him to sit with his face to the window on the other side of the room. The answer he gets is very clear: “I will sit here!”
The next chapter of my Afghanistan Diary will be published on 3 September 2019. It’s title will be “October 1996 – Praying as a Government Program”. 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