February 2001 – A visa for the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan It’s Wednesday night and it’s great to relax by the pool of the Marriott Hotel. The food from the buffet has always been very tasty here and in the cellar there is a small bar which you can enter after presenting your foreign passport.

February 2001 – A visa for the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan

It’s Wednesday night and it’s great to relax by the pool of the Marriott Hotel. The food from the buffet has always been very tasty here and in the cellar there is a small bar which you can enter after presenting your foreign passport. Two days of rest lie ahead of us. On Thursdays and Fridays the Embassy of Afghanistan has closed, on Saturday we want to get our visa.

There is currently no Afghan embassy in Germany or anywhere else in the world – only here in Pakistan. Apart from the government in Islamabad, no other diplomatic relations are maintained with the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”. Therefore visas for foreigners are available only here.

Our beards itch like hell. We must get through this, because shaving is prohibited by law under the Taliban government, which has been at the helm in Afghanistan since 1996. The facial hair has been sprouting unhindered for four weeks now. With me not really violently and with bald spots, with Kay already a bit more clearly.

If you are in Islamabad and have nothing better to do, then you just have to drive north to the Margalla Hills. Past the Faisal Mosque. The Saudis built the largest mosque in the world here. 74,000 people are said to have room in it.

Faisal Mosque in Islamabad – Photo: Umaira Deeb

As soon as we have passed the mosque, dust and heat of the city slowly disappear, the road rises, the green becomes richer and monkeys try to jump on the passing cars. Here, in the southern foothills of the Himalayas, there are said to be a large numbers of free living leopards. In steep curves the road is slowly spiraling upwards. If we continued straight ahead, we would reach an altitude of about 1,600 meters. But we don’t.

Lunch is the order of the day and is very close by. On the right and left of the road there are lots of restaurants, many of them with large terraces and a clear view over Islamabad and Rawalpindi. What a weather! The air is cool and clean, the food is delicious and inexpensive, the monkeys are annoying. The waiter does his best to scare them off our table – the monkeys obviously don’t care.

On Saturday we want to be at the Afghan embassy as early as possible to get our visa. At seven the alarm clock rings. An hour later and the driver is standing in front of the door. If you have an address in Islamabad, even non-residents hardly have to search. The city centre is structured like a chessboard and, similar to the centre of Mannheim, is divided into grid squares. The embassy is located in square G-6 on 90 Street, very close to Atatürk Avenue.

A rather inconspicuous brick house. A large, sandy courtyard, clear toilet smells waft between the walls. The sewage system in Islamabad is often overstrained, especially on wet and hot days. A couple of men with turbans are sitting in the shade of a tree. No signs in a language we can read, no reference to the consular section. One of the guys rises, comes up to us. Black turban, black cloth around the neck, black, knee-length shirt, big an bushy beard. He speaks to us in pretty good English, wants to know what we want.

I’m doing my little speech. Journalists from Germany want to report from Afghanistan. We ask for a visa so that we can fly to Kabul tomorrow if possible. Why is he smiling so strangely as he looks at our faces? We don’t get an answer. He turns around, leaves us and talks to the other men. I’m sure they’ll talk in Pashto, one of the two main languages in Afghanistan.

After a few minutes he plants himself again in front of us. Only now do I notice what a giant is standing in front of me. Even with my six-foot-five, I have to put my head back a little. He still grins and smiles, his deep black eyes squinted, he explains that it can’t work with our visa.

Islamabad seen from Margalla Hills – Photo: Imran Shah

Slightly shaking my head I immediately get the explanation. We would probably know that men in Afghanistan would not shave, is what he says. They are real men and have “real” beards. With our few fluffs on our faces, he can’t let us in the country. We should come back and apply again after we can show a “real” beard. He turns his back on us – discussion is completely impossible.

The next chapter of my Afghanistan Diary will be published on 12 November 2019. It’s title will be “February 2001 – Our Visa for the Taliban’s Afghanistan – Will we really get it?” 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


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