March 2001 – Visa and shooting ban? It’s been March for a few days now. We are now stuck in Islamabad for a good three weeks and are hoping for our visa for the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”, which is now about five years old. Again and again we failed because our beards are still

March 2001 – Visa and shooting ban?

It’s been March for a few days now. We are now stuck in Islamabad for a good three weeks and are hoping for our visa for the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”, which is now about five years old. Again and again we failed because our beards are still not long enough. Again and again the ambassador is absolutely friendly. It has become extremely difficult to convince our colleagues in the editorial office in Berlin that waiting is expensive but worthwhile. Only yesterday they asked me to quickly shoot a TV-documentary in Pakistan and then come back. How naive can you actually be when you’re sitting in an editorial office?

It’s Saturday. We are once again on our way to the Afghan embassy in the Islamabad’s square G-9. After so many visits here in the diplomatic mission, my optimism is about to fade. I have no idea how long the mullahs will keep us waiting. Maybe they expect our beards to reach the length of their own. That would probably take years… Maybe the thing with the beard is just an excuse for something else? Maybe they will also get their share of the money we spend at the hotel?

A tall and scrawny man in a floor-length black robe and with an artistically wrapped turban approaches us as soon as we have entered the courtyard of the embassy. “We are waiting for you!” He says, “We have decided to issue your visas. Now you’ll have to sign some documents.” He politely asks us into the house and immediately starts looking for papers and forms in the office. Several documents are lying chaotically on the shelves and on tables. After some digging, he has obviously found what he is looking for.

There are the exact visa applications we filled out almost four weeks ago. Of course we have to provide passport photos again; it’s good that we brought some with us. And then there is an “Agreement for Journalists in the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”. Obviously written with a somewhat worn typewriter and then photocopied. “That,” he tells us, “you will have to sign.”

When Kay sees that I already have the pen in my hand to sign, he holds me back. “Read it first”. Okay, of course he’s right and I sit on the windowsill and start reading. There’s a lot there and it’s partly very covert and awkwardly written. Here are the most important points:

  • Journalists in Afghanistan are only allowed to leave Kabul if the trip has been approved by the Information Department of the Foreign Ministry. Violation of this rule will be punished.

  •  Journalists in Afghanistan do not have the right to criticise the government, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan or other bodies. Violation of this rule will be punished.

  • Foreign journalists in Afghanistan must be accompanied 24 hours a day by an interpreter. The interpreter is appointed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Violation of this rule will be punished.

  • Journalists are strictly forbidden to photograph people and other living creatures or to record them on video or film. Violation of this rule will be punished.

  • Journalists may only stay in the hotel assigned to them by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the interpreter. Violation of this rule will be punished.

  • Alcoholic beverages of any kind may neither be brought to Afghanistan nor consumed there. Violation of this rule will be punished.

That looks quite problematic. Well, I can live very well without alcohol and I do not see it as a problem to have to stay in a prescribed hotel. Even the ban on critical reporting is unlikely to affect us, as I will only write the texts for our films once we have left Afghanistan.

But the strict prohibition to film living beings (including humans) does not work at all. That’s exactly what I explain to the embassy person and ask him how to do reports if not allowed to do interviews, for example.

“Yes,” he says, “that’s no problem at all. Of course you have permission to do interviews.” We just shouldn’t show the interviewee. It wouldn’t be a problem to show a mosque or the beautiful landscape of Afghanistan while listening to an interview.

I, on the other hand, fear that no television station would be willing to broadcast an interview in which the interviewee is not in the picture at all. Sign, break the rules and hope there are no problems? Or fly back home after almost four weeks of waiting? Once again I try to discuss with the diplomat. He is understanding, but still insists in our signatures, making clear that he doesn’t care much whether we sign and travel to Kabul, or refuse to sign and not get a visa. Should I ask him about time for reflection? Or ask that his ministry in Kabul make an exception with us? Should I ask him what kind of punishments we’ll get if we break these rules?

The next chapter of my Afghanistan Diary will be published on 10 December 2019. It’s title will be “March 2001 – A ‘warm’ welcome by the Taliban” 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) (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

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