5) February 2001 – Finally: Our visa… It’s really quite nice in the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad. And be it just to hear our beards grow. What can we do? Is there such a thing as facial fertilizer or a hair restorer for beards? In any case, simple pressing does not help. We let Sunday
5) February 2001 – Finally: Our visa…
It’s really quite nice in the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad. And be it just to hear our beards grow. What can we do? Is there such a thing as facial fertilizer or a hair restorer for beards? In any case, simple pressing does not help. We let Sunday and Monday pass by. On Tuesday we again go to the embassy of Taliban-Afghanistan. Torrential rain outside. In some places the water is knee-deep in the street, children enjoy the wet pleasure and the cooling down.The inner courtyard of the embassy is nothing but a mud desert. Muddy piles around the trees, deep footprints between the entrance gate and the front door. The masses of water pelt onto the small canopy above the entrance and rush – a rain gutter is not installed – into the thick mud.
Shall we knock? Just go in? Call? I don’t know. Nobody seems to be around. No bell button at the door.. I try it with knocking. At first tentatively, then clearly more strongly. Nothing. “Hello, anyone here?” Nothing. “Merhaba!” That’s Turkish, but maybe it’s understandable for Pashtoo-Speakers as well. No reaction.
And now? Simply go in? Would that be o.k.? Or rude, even dangerous? Exchanging glances with Kay. In his eyes I see a clear “Yes!” Well, then let’s go. In fact, the door is not locked and seconds later we are standing in a corridor. A staircase goes upstairs, three doors go off here on the ground floor. One is open. Under further “Hello” and “Merhaba” – shouting we both look through the open door. A kind of office. A completely empty desk, an obviously rather shaky chair, a shelf with exactly two books on it.
On the desk, a gold-coloured name tag decorated with ornaments. The name in a font that I cannot read, below the word “Ambassador”. In English. We landed right in the ambassador’s office. Then suddenly behind us an explosive sound. Someone banged the door.
6) September 1996 – From Koranic School to Weapon Factory
The noise is deafening, I think I can see the door frame trembling. The headmaster, his turban has slipped a little to the side, stands with his legs apart in front of the door, which he has just slammed shut with all the power he has. His friendly smile is gone, as if a huge eraser had run through his face. Orhan didn’t make it. His camera always needs 20 to 30 seconds “pre-run” before he can shoot. Too long in a situation like this. All four of us saw what was happening in the next room to the headmaster’s office.I can hardly believe it. Children are sitting there learning how to operate the AK-47, a assault rifle developed in the Soviet Union. Is this really a “teaching subject” at the big Madrassa, here, close to the city of Peshawar? And how will the head of the school react after knowing what we know now? Ali reacts quickly – and apparently absolutely right. A few sentences from the Koran, which he probably learned during one of his rare visits to a mosque. A few movements with his hands on his head, bows and then a hand on his heart.
The director yells a few words. For me it doesn’t sound like Urdu, the official language of Pakistan. More like Pashtoo. We remain silent for a couple of minutes. Will the gentleman with the turban realise that my heart beats like crazy? Then the tea comes, he maybe cried for. “Well”, the headmaster begins a sentence and then takes a long break. What we might just have seen would be completely normal. It’s just a wild country here. We would realise soon. And here the young students have to learn how to fight. He doesn’t say “to defend themselves”, he talks about a war into which the children would have to go one day.
Even a person who is free of any cognitive empathy would clearly notice that the person with the turban sitting behind the desk would now like to get rid of us as quick as possible. Like two equal poles of a magnet, the school principal on one side and the three of us on the other suddenly seem to repel each other. With a smile carved into his face, he walks us to the edge of the parking lot. Not even to our car – although that would have been mandatory. No goodbye. He turns around and walks back to the school without a word of good bye.
Looking at our driver Hanif, I feel guilty. It seems as if nobody had asked him into the house, so that he waited in the shade of the car. It is certainly well over 30 degrees and he looks completely sweaty. Ali tells him about our school visit and Hanif is hardly surprised. Where all the weapons would come from, I want to know from him and he shows a broad grin – as far as it is possible with his almost toothless mouth.
“They are made here, anyone can buy them here”. And then Hanif remembers that a “weapons factory” is not far from here. Those are his words. After a few kilometres to the west, in the direction of Peshawar, he turns right onto an unpaved road. We cross the railway line between Rawalpindi and Peshawar. Slowly, jumping from pothole to pothole, we sneak along the dirt road. After 15 or 20 minutes we have reached a river and a small settlement on it’s shore. Somewhat remote a house, more like a hut with walls and roof made of corrugated iron. Right here Hanif parks our car.
The first thing I hear is the whining squeak of a tortured metal drill. A rhythmically singing metal saw and muffled male voices. Hanif asks us to wait, Orhan has already switched on the camera as a precaution to be immediately ready to shoot. Not a minute goes by and the driver comes back. “You can go in, but only without a camera.” Shit! But better than not being allowed to see what’s in there at all. Maybe we could persuade the gun-makers a little later…
After the blazing heat outside it is a bit cooler even here, under the corrugated iron roof. A single, easily manageable room. Ten metres long perhaps, and five or six metres wide. Three men in the traditional Shalwar Kameez. A bright, more than knee-long shirt, underneath a wide, fluttery pair of trousers. The electric machines look as if they had been built between the world wars. The brand name “Fein” (a traditional German company) is emblazoned on one of the drills.
On the opposite wall there are finished weapons. Ten or 15 Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifles and three RPG-7 anti-tank weapons. (RPG = rocket propelled grenades). A small but pretty fat gentleman with a black turban welcomes us friendly. Broken English, but easy to understand. “Yes, this is a normal weapons factory, as you can find it everywhere in the west of Pakistan”. And they only produce the two types of weapons we see here. “You don’t need more here either”.
The AK-47 is the classic rifle of all war weapons. Built almost unchanged since 1947, nobody knows exactly how many of these guns are in circulation. Experts estimate that between 80 and 100 million AK-47 have left the factories. At least 60 states equip their armies with this weapon, it is built in dozens of countries all over the globe. Especially popular, as a mercenary in Somalia told me some time ago, are the AK-47s, which were produced in the former GDR. They are more expensive than others but also much more precise.
“What does such a thing cost?” I want to know from the little turban wearer. He first looks over to Hanif, then back to me. A few seconds later our driver nods. (What role does Hanif play here?) Yes, so if I only bought one, then I would have to put down about 200 dollars, he explains to me. However, if we took several, then there would be a decent discount in it. Does he want to sell his guns to us?
Suddenly he presses one of the brand new AK-47 into my hand. “It’s not shot in yet, you can try it out.” Nah, I don’t want that! What if this thing backfires on me? And in general… Or do I want to? Years ago, in the Iraqi part of Kurdistan, I shot with a Kalashnikov. I remember the sharp, loud bang and the unexpectedly violent recoil very well. To the astonishment of the PKK rebels, about whom we had made a report back then, I even hit the tin can they had set up as a target. Sure, I was pretty proud.
Well, I’ll do it then. For a journalist, it is actually an aberration. But now I am the private person trying to learn about Pakistan and life in the country. Over there, on the other bank of the river, are the remains of a rotten row-boat. The turban-man determines that this should be my target. Distance maybe 300 meters – that should work. From a standing position and gun unrested. Then it cracks incredibly loud and I am deaf.
Translated with the help of www.DeepL.com/Translator
The next chapter of my Afghanistan Diary will be published on 9 October 2018. It will be titled “August 2009 – Training according to old German Rules”.
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.
Translation from German to English with the help of www.deepl.com