7) August 2009 – Training according to old German Rules I’m deaf. At least for a few seconds, until the powder steam has disappeared from the Kalashnikov. The police student next to me puts the gun aside and grins at his teacher, at Kay with the camera and me. He has landed three direct hits
7) August 2009 – Training according to old German Rules
I’m deaf. At least for a few seconds, until the powder steam has disappeared from the Kalashnikov. The police student next to me puts the gun aside and grins at his teacher, at Kay with the camera and me. He has landed three direct hits on the target almost 100 meters away. We’re standing in the shooting range at the police academy in Kabul and the cadets are firing all over the place. Kay is shooting with his camera, headphones on to control the sound of the recording. Envious! Nobody else wears hearing protection here – not even these little plastic plugs that can be pushed into the ear canal like the familiar ear plugs.
With a few movements of my hands I ask the shooting instructor to follow me outside. Kay comes up, I already have the microphone for the interview in my hand. “How long do the recruits have to practice until they can handle the AK-47 sufficiently?” – “Sorry, I don’t understand you, could you speak a little louder?” Sure I can! Very much so! And then it quickly becomes clear that the poor guy is almost deaf. I simply forget my original question. Now I want to know what he thinks about wearing hearing protection. “Oh, I don’t need that,” he shouts into our microphone, “the noise doesn’t bother me, I’ve been doing it for two years now and I’ve already got completely used to it.”
German teachers teach German police work at the police academy. With interpreters of course. Tracing, interrogation methods, rights of the arrested, comparison of fingerprints, driving techniques. Everything the average Afghan policeman urgently needs to know. With teaching material in German, discarded by various police authorities in Germany. Outside there is marching, it seems as if we Germans could convey this particularly well. Close commands and always hopeless confusion.
As many times before, we’re working with Wahab. He is our driver, guide and interpreter. He was in Germany for a long time, fleeing war and the Taliban. His German is perfect. Only a few years ago he came back to Kabul to take care of his father, slowly wasting away. Here at the police school he seems to know everything and he told me that he had been an police-officer in Kabul before his fled to Germany.
Kay is shooting what he thinks is important. In fact, we are waiting for the head of the academy, a colonel of the national police, to finally give us an interview. At some point, we almost lose our patience, one of the recruits comes running towards us and asks us into the directors “Holy Grail”. The boss has set up his office very much his own way. Two plush sofas, a table painted with peeling gold bronze, and lots of Koranic verses on the walls. He sits at his desk, weighs at least 150 kilos and has a very worn out looking Kalashnikov hanging on the wall behind him. As Wahab steps into the room, the fat man jumps up, hugs our driver and words in Pashto splutter through the room as if two friends have not seen each other for many years.
Microphone, tripod with camera and the light we have are quickly set up. As soon as I manage to ask my first question, he starts talking my head off. As if in an endless loop, he repeats that the cooperation with the Germans would be so great and how grateful he is that good police officers can be trained here with help from Berlin. Anyway, he thinks it’s great that the whole police academy, only reopened in 2002, is a gift from the Germans. From 1935 – two years after the Nazis seized power. The police colonel talks like a machine gun. His effusion will be pretty hard to cut later on. After 10 or 15 minutes I thank him with the friendliest words and break off. Now he’s stuttering, the uniformed heavyweight. Finally he asks Kay to move the camera out of the room and into our car if possible.
What’s coming now? After a glass of tea he starts to tell clearly, structured and very straight forward, what is on his mind, but what he doesn’t dare to tell German television: “We train thousands of policemen here. Criminologists, municipal police, traffic police, bodyguards and also people for the secret service. Many of them are real fools, almost half of them can neither read nor write when they start their training with us.” Freshly brewed green tea is served, suddenly also a large bowl with sweets stands on the table. “But there are also really good people among them. A handful of women and many men”. After completing the training, he continues, the now newly appointed policemen get their uniforms and one or two weapons. Often a pistol and a Kalashnikov assault rifle. “Then often less than four weeks later, about one third or even half of the new policemen suddenly disappear. Without logging off, without leaving a trace.” The colonel seems really distressed, looks at me sadly. “Well,” he sums up, “the Taliban, the warlords and the drug barons simply pay more than the salary of 100 to 150 dollars a month that the newly assigned officers get from the state.”
This time we are in Kabul to report on the presidential elections. Our hotel in Kabul is very posh. The Serena Hotel was only completed in 2005 and belongs to an international chain of five-star hotels owned by the Aga Khan Foundation. Unlike in other parts of the world, the Serena here is more of a fortress than a classic luxury hotel. You can only get in after various checks and detectors, through massive iron gates massive iron gates and past several rows of sandbag barriers. Nevertheless, one and a half years ago an assassin managed to get into the fitness room of the hotel and detonate his bomb there. Six people were killed – the suicide bomber included. The experts responsible for security at Deutsche Welle in Bonn instructed us to spend our free time only inside the hotel. We should also have our meals there. Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner however, are so expensive in Serena that our daily allowance is exceeded by far. Did anyone ever think about it? With all the necessary caution we go in spite of the instruction from Germany to the city here and then. Even in a really good and clean restaurant we pay less than a quarter of the money we would have to spend in the hotel.Unlike three years ago, there are not many German journalists who are allowed to report from Afghanistan anymore. Before October 2006 there were always young men and women who wanted to make a name for themselves with reports from Afghanistan. These free-lancers often took incredible risks to produce and sell exciting reports for newspapers, radio and television. Publishers and broadcasters often and gladly purchased the reports – not only because the stories of the young daredevils were cheaper and often more exciting than those of the professionals. That October, two colleagues from Deutsche Welle were murdered in Afghanistan. Shortly afterwards, something happened that I had already suggested years earlier: Most of the directors general and editors-in-chief of broadcasters in Germany agreed that only journalists who had previously completed a recognised security training would be allowed to report from hostile areas. I had already passed my “crisis training” after working in Somalia at the beginning of the nineties and at my own expense.
It will take a few more days before the Afghans will go to the ballot boxes. Hamid Karzai, the incumbent president, seems to be fighting for his re-election by all means. The fact that we still have a few days until election day is of course known to the editorial staff in the news-room of Deutsche Welle television in Berlin and they come up with an interesting suggestion. A bit dangerous at the end.
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 “June 1973 – Waiting to cross the border from Iran into Afghanistan”.
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