September 1996 – Koranic School in Pakistan: Koran and Kalashnikov In fact, you can live in Islamabad at a very reasonable price. The “New Capital Guest House” is accommodation for my Turkish camera team and myself. Ali and Orhan share a room, as nothing else is available – I am lucky enough to have a
September 1996 – Koranic School in Pakistan: Koran and Kalashnikov
In fact, you can live in Islamabad at a very reasonable price. The “New Capital Guest House” is accommodation for my Turkish camera team and myself. Ali and Orhan share a room, as nothing else is available – I am lucky enough to have a single room. The two colleagues can hardly believe that Pakistan is officially a non-alcoholic country – even if there are always ways and means here, as in Iran or Afghanistan. If that’s what it takes.
Ali and Orhan, this is my Turkish camera team. Whenever Kay is not or not quick enough available or if Kay is too expensive for the station, the two colleagues from Ankara have to do it. Ali describes himself as a “producer”, is a little older than I am, has hardly any hair on his head and, in addition to his mother tongue, speaks fluent English and French. Ha was a camera man in the Vietnam War. Orhan is his student – somehow. Especially in his mid-20s and without experience abroad, he is happy about every camera job he gets. And he learns quickly. Besides Turkish, Orhan speaks good English.
We just want to stay in Islamabad for a few days. Meeting people at the Red Cross and the UN. Only planes of these two organisations fly into Kabul – and that is exactly where we want to go. Commercial airlines do not take flights to the capital of Afghanistan. ARIANA, once the proud state-owned airline of Afghanistan, is more or less grounded, infrastructure and aircraft almost completely destroyed.
After years of fighting in and around Kabul, the Taliban troops are now standing outside the city gates. Only the soldiers around the former Mujaheddin and later Defence Minister Ahmed Shah Mahsoud still hold the position. Just. The people of Kabul are starving, three quarters of the city is destroyed. No electricity, hardly any drinking water, but rockets and artillery every night and anti-personnel mines almost everywhere. A functioning telephone network has not existed in Afghanistan for years – mobile telephones are not yet on the market or unaffordable.
We are still in Islamabad, but we’re booked on a flight with a Red Cross plane from Peshawar to Kabul the day after. Check out at the hotel. Hanif, our proven taxi driver is already ready to take us 200 kilometres west to Peshawar. 200 kilometres means that we will be on the road for at least five to six hours. I would also like to visit a madrasa, a Koranic school not far from Nowshera. Because of its impressive size, it attracted my attention on earlier trips.
For this mission it is a great advantage to have two colleagues at my side who belong to the Islamic religion. Both know how to behave towards Muslim authorities, which words and phrases are the right ones and who has to bow and when. And they both have a hard time briefing me. But it is also a comforting feeling to know that neither Ali nor Orhan take the religion (which they were born into) all too seriously.
Ali had already arranged a visit to my “Wish-Madrasa” in Islamabad with an imam of a mosque near our hotel. He had promised to make everything possible. Now we are about a dozen kilometres east of Peshawar, at the school. Ali’s connection seems to have worked out excellently. So good that from the first moment on I have the feeling that a Potemkin village is presented to us here.
Three cheerful older gentlemen with grey turbans welcome us in the parking lot, which obviously belongs to the complex. There’s a glass of juice for each of us. At school: neatly divided classrooms and, in fact, girls can be seen in a separate part of the Madrasa. In one class they obviously study mathematics, in another a little boy reads aloud from the Koran. And biology is taught. Demonstration object: a replica of a human torso with individually removable organs. There is hardly anything like this in one of the many comparatively liberal Koranic schools in Turkey called “Imam Hatip Lisesi”. One of the classes may even teach something like English. Unfortunately I can’t understand the teacher.
Education in Pakistan is very expensive so poor people cannot afford to send their children to a “normal” school or even university. The only chance the children from the vast lower class have is Madrasas. Not everyone is admitted – but if it works out, the school itself is free and in addition the students are catered for and accommodated. A huge relief for the families struggling on the brink of subsistence.
Orhan shoots here and there – you never know if you might need the footage later on. After some time we are invited to the headmaster’s office, where hot, sweet tea was waiting for us.
I would like to do a short interview with him, but when one of the side doors opens, it takes my breath away. Orhan and the headmaster jump up at the same time. My Turkish colleague reaches for the camera, the man in a turban tries to close the door as quickly as possible.
Within the few seconds we have to look into the next room, it can be clearly seen: There are 10 or 12 boys sitting on a big carpet. All from 12 to maybe 16 years old. All blindfolded. On their knees lie weapons of the type AK-47 (Kalashnikov) and it is obvious that they, even without seeing anything, train the disassembling and reassembling of the weapons.
The next chapter of my Afghanistan Diary will be published on 28 August 2018. It will be titled “February 2001 – A Visa for the “Islamic Emirate of 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