July 1973 – A shot that changes the world After the almost untouched nature at Bamiyan we’re back in the dust of the big city. It is July 16, 1973, a Monday. It is summery warm in the city, where it rarely gets unbearably hot. Kabul is simply too high in the mountains. Monika, Michelle,

July 1973 – A shot that changes the world

After the almost untouched nature at Bamiyan we’re back in the dust of the big city. It is July 16, 1973, a Monday. It is summery warm in the city, where it rarely gets unbearably hot. Kabul is simply too high in the mountains. Monika, Michelle, another woman from Holland and I sit almost all day long in the garden and play cards. The game is called “Sevens” and is probably at least as popular in England as Mau-Mau or Skat in Germany. Michelle taught me – while I concentrated on her fascinating eyes again.

That could be something longer and stronger with her and me. I feel a tingling sensation when I see her, feel her or smell her. And she as well gives the impression that she likes to be close to me. I would like to do more with her than just cuddle and screw. What will Monika say about that? After all, she was the one who absolutely wanted an open relationship with me from the very beginning – and she lived it. How nice that we still have so much time to find the best way for all of us.

The card game and some ice-cold strawberry shake and mango juice. It’s just a wonderful day and it’s great to be really lazy. In the late afternoon we drive up to one of Kabul’s many hills to enjoy the sunset. A light wind blows and from up here we see dozens of children flying their kites. I miss my music a bit. The few cassettes we have with us have been played so often that the sound quality has become unbearably bad. The Who, Spooky Tooth, Cream, The Kinks, Led Zeppelin or even Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young would be good now. Loud. Once again I have the feeling that this country, despite its eventful history, has become quiet and peaceful.

So many people of my age travel here because hashish is good and cheap and because they can enjoy their drugs in peace. This was never important to me. For me, narcotics and liquors are a strange world. While many philosophise about “Green Turk” and “Black Afghan”, I try to find out whether and how it is possible to distribute affection or love evenly in a relationship of three. My drugs are nature, adventure and of course Michelle and Monika. The sunset is also something like a drug. Glowing yellow and red colors in abundance.

I believe that the newspaper article I write this evening for the “Spandauer Volksblatt” almost conveys something like romance.

On Tuesday the world is suddenly a different one. Tomorrow’s Afghanistan will no longer be yesterday’s Afghanistan. A tank rattles through the Sulh Road in Shar-E-Naw, one of Kabul’s most important streets. A single one only. I don’t know military vehicles very well. People who stand next to me holding their breath believe that it is an M-48 tank built in America in the 1950s or 1960s. It rolls forwards a whole distance, emitting thick clouds of smoke from the exhaust. Then a little way back. Its tower turns, the engine howling it moves forward again. Then it suddenly stops. Again the gun turret turns, the gun barrel lifts a bit. A small cloud of smoke swells out of the gun barrel and a second later I hear the bang. Loud, like the Soviet fighter planes that temporarily broke the sound barrier over West Berlin.

US-made Tank M48/Patton

In the faces of the people around me: the naked fear, tears or worried frown. But there are also a few men who applaud. It seems that at least those who applaud know what is happening here. We cannot understand the breaking news broadcast by Afghan radio. But the message is spreading like wildfire. The king has fallen, his brother-in-law Mohammed Daoud Khan is proclaiming himself president. Afghanistan was a kingdom yesterday and is a republic today. What we are witnessing right now is a revolution or a coup or both. Mohammed Zahir Shar, King of Afghanistan since 1933, is in Italy for medical treatment. That’s how much I’m aware of very quickly. Then in different languages we hear that this country from now on is called “Republic of Afghanistan”.

July 1973 – In the prison of the new republic

So this is how revolutions work? A single tank? A single shot? Nobody dead or injured? No noisy and weapon-staring revolt? We spend the next few days in the hotel or nearby. Just in case…

But everything seems to be going its normal way. Chicken Street sells poultry, in Butcher Street, just around the corner, there’s beef and sheep meat and Flower Street, between the meat and poultry streets, offers flowers and vegetables. Restaurants are open, the muezzin calls for prayer and the dealers continue to address all foreigners who look as if they are in Afghanistan because of the drugs. The Green Hotel where we live seems to be fully booked. Even in the courtyard it is no longer relaxing and cozy – there are too many people here now. Many of the travellers don’t trust the situation at the moment, don’t trust the facts that is still relaxed and quiet. There is a rumour that foreigners are having problems on their way east to Pakistan at the border. Exact information is not available.

At the airport there should be a very well informed tourist information. That’s where Monika, Michelle and I want to go today. Ralf from Berlin, also a guest at the Green Hotel, joins us. To the right from the airport terminal there are large parking lots, but they are completely overcrowded. It seems that despite the coup d’état or the revolution, air traffic is still functioning normally. Somewhere on the edge, between a tree and a moat, I find a place for our VW minibus. Since I always had a special interest in airports, I take the camera with me. Not a valuable model. A “good old” Voigtländer with bellows, with a simple mechanical shutter and manual film transport.

In the middle of the large, flat square, directly in front of the entrance to the terminal, there is a signpost with 20 or 30 directional signs. The distance to the most important cities on earth is shown as the crow flies. There are 4,792 flight kilometres to Berlin, 5,714 to London, 4,177 kilometres to Beijing, 13,429 to Rio de Janeiro and 11,439 kilometres to Sydney. A wonderful symbol of how cosmopolitan Afghanistan wants to be. A photo of the signs will certainly look good later when I watch the slides of this trip with friends.

School girls in Kabul in 1973…

Of course I need the right location, because the sign post to “Berlin” has to be visible on the photo. It’s easy to find and even the sun is in the right position. Suddenly a stabbing pain in my back, someone roars behind me in a language unknown to me and I have trouble holding the camera. Carefully I turn around. A soldier rammed the barrel of his rifle into my back. The two girls stand frightened behind him. The uniformed man talks to me and alternately blows his whistle with bloated cheeks. I have no idea what he wants. The man seems to be a soldier, not a policeman, but the two who come out of the terminal are definitely police officers. They exchange a few short sentences in a language that is probably Dari, then the younger of the two policemen explains to me in broken English that the airport is a military object and that it is not allowed to take photographs. Relief on my side. I did not take pictures of the airport building, but shot nothing but the signpost.

Unfortunately, the three men do not seem to be interested in my objections at all. Besides, two of them are probably trying to bruise my arms right now, they grab me so tightly to drag me to a car. To Michelle and Monika I quickly shout the words “German Embassy”. Then I am pushed into an olive green minibus. The two policemen are now sitting to my right and left and we are on our way out of the airport area in a southerly direction. After 15 minutes I completely loose my orientation. I guess that we are heading towards Kabul University, but I can’t even see the position of the sun to find out our direction of travel. It’s mostly small roads, twice we cross one of the big boulevards.

…and in 2018

Then suddenly the zoo is to our left and after a few minutes we turn right into the gate of a big building. I always suspected the traffic police headquarters to be here, but now I see that this complex is much too big to serve “only” the traffic police. The two men, now their grip is not quite so tight anymore, lead me through a back entrance into the building and push me up a staircase and into an office room. A huge typewriter on an desk made of sheet metal. Behind it a sleepy looking policeman with a cigarette in the corner of his mouth. The whole room is completely filled with smoke. He can never have done that on his own. The two of them who brought me here now support him in fogging the room. They palaver and suddenly nobody takes care of me anymore. A man with three tea glasses comes in, puts the glasses on the table and leaves again.

“Passport” is the first word addressed to me. The person behind the typewriter must be fluent in English or at least be able to read Latin letters. Otherwise he wouldn’t be able to do anything with my passport. He scrolls through my travel document, takes a particularly close look at individual pages, then takes five sheets of paper and four sheets of carbon paper from a drawer. Carefully the sheets are alternately laid on top of each other with the carbon paper and then clamped into the typewriter. It looks very much like he is using a Germany made “Olympic” machine. Does the writer guy in uniform know that his typewriter comes from Germany? Like me? Slowly and with a “one-finger-search-system”, he types the data from my passport. In between he talks again and again with his two colleagues. After about an hour has passed, he pulls the papers out of the typewriter with an elegant hand movement.

At the bottom I not only have to sign, but also place a fingerprint. The stamp pad is already places on the table. I can’t read anything at all – everything is probably written in Dari. That’s exactly what I tell the person behind the desk. “No problem”, is his answer and then he seems to translate roughly what he has just written. According to his words I am accused of having photographed a military object. So there would be the suspicion that I am spying against Afghanistan. I would remain in custody until the trial. Oh shit!

And then he tells me that the Afghan visa in my passport is no longer valid. It was issued by the Royal Afghan Embassy in Bonn. And a Kingdom of Afghanistan would no longer exist. And now the two guys really take me twenty meters down the corridor into a barred cell. A good twenty men are already in there. Waiting for me? I don’t see any beds and it stinks bestially of piss.

The next chapter of my Afghanistan Diary will be published on 01 January 2019. It’s title will be “June/August 1973 – Self supporting in Prison”.
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 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

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