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

 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.

The Embassy of the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” is located in sector G-6

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.

February 2001 – By the Beard of the Prophet

A man with a thick black beard stands in front of us. It is quite clear: we have just entered his office without authorisation. There should be trouble looming! Smiling friendly, he asks us to take a seat, sits himself down on the worn out swivel chair behind the desk. “How was your day so far?” He seriously wants to know what our day has been like so far? Still smiling, he hands us a business card over the table. “Mullah Abdul Salaam Sayeef, Ambassador” can be read in ornate letters. So it’s the boss himself. For my self-printed business card, which I can hand back to him, I am ashamed again. Of course, I could also have official business cards from Deutsche Welle. But on the card there would be the printed line “Free Lance Journalist / In Freier Mitarbeit”. Whether I like it or not. Here in Pakistan I would be worth about as much as the street trader with his waste from the slaughterhouse.

So we’re sitting opposite a real mullah – and he’s still friendly. Especially in the western world and after the Islamic revolution in Iran, the word “mullah” has a negative connotation. In fact, it is nothing more than an honorary title for a jurist or religious scholar.

“Well, so you want to file some reports on the situation in Afghanistan?” So he already knows that we want to report from his country – surely he also knows that we are waiting for a visa. Seconds after he presses a bell button on his desk, a man comes into the room with a shiny golden tray. Green tea, sweets and nuts. “Yes, in principle there is nothing to stop you flying to Kabul and reporting from Afghanistan,” says the mullah with the teacup in his hand. Of course it would be quite clear that we have to abide by all existing laws. Of course, this also includes the shaving ban for all men. “You have to understand!” We can’t just let you walk around without a beard, while all men in Afghanistan have to let their facial hair sprout.

We have to wait a few more days and then come back to the embassy. One will see. “Good bye”. And this “goodbye” was all too clear. Nothing like away – and no anger by the unauthorised penetration. More days in the Marriott Hotel. March begins, it gets noticeably warmer, but the rain also increases. Even the rich buffet in the hotel slowly gets boring and our waiting also costs a lot of money.

Foreigners only: A club in Islamabad

In almost every place in the world where UN aid organisations are active, there are also so called UN clubs. These clubs are not run by the United Nations, but are usually only open to employees of NGOs and journalists. Actually, I don’t like these foreigner clubs, which are established in the crisis areas of the world. If somebody is looking for snot-nosed, loud guys: these clubs for foreigners are usually the right address – especially since almost all of these establishments also offer cheap alcoholic beverages.

Contrary to expectations, things are really relaxed and civilised behind the walls here on the outskirts of Pakistan’s capital. Like almost everywhere we have to present our passports at the entrance. Who has a Pakistani passport or identity card or who comes from another Islamic country, has no admission. There is wine and beer and the licence for this restaurant was only granted with the condition to refuse entry to Muslims.

On the lawn of the courtyard there are tables with hot and cold dishes. It smells very tasty and the menu of the day shows a number of French dishes. We have to pay about 12 dollars, for that we can take whatever we like. Drinks are extra, a glass of wine for about five dollars. Around us muffled cacophony in several languages. Common language is of course English, but also Scandinavian languages, French, German, Turkish and (amazing!) Arabic can be heard.

A good evening! Nevertheless I am slowly impatient. I finally want to go to Kabul, finally see how things are in the land of the Taliban! Want to know how the employees of “Doctors without Borders” can do their work. Two German female doctors work in Kandahar – and that with a legal ban on women working.

The next chapter of my Afghanistan Diary will be published on 26 November 2019. It’s title will be “March 2001 – A valid Visa but no permission to film?” 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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