March 2001 – A clear violation of the law The flight to Mazar-E-Sharif leaves early in the morning. At seven o’clock we should be at the airport with tickets and luggage. Ali, our official driver, will pick up Mustafa, Kay and me from the hotel. Of course he can’t go to the north, Mustafa says
March 2001 – A clear violation of the law
The flight to Mazar-E-Sharif leaves early in the morning. At seven o’clock we should be at the airport with tickets and luggage. Ali, our official driver, will pick up Mustafa, Kay and me from the hotel. Of course he can’t go to the north, Mustafa says that a driver will be provided in Mazar-E-Sharif as well. We are allowed to stay two nights up there, then we are expected back in Kabul. So says the press office of the Foreign Ministry.
We carry the luggage to the plane ourselves, the tickets are only checked at the stairs up to the cabin. Nobody asks for passports or other identity cards. There is no security check. Our plane is an old Antonov AN-24, a propeller plane developed in the Ukraine in the late fifties of the last century. During my work in Somalia I had already got to know this type of aircraft in detail. Aircraft of this type had been procured by the state-owned ARIANA during the Soviet occupation. There is room for about fifty passengers – the plane is not completely booked out. One of the pilots is standing in the open cockpit door. A mighty beard covers his face. Very unusual for professional pilots, because the oxygen mask they would have to put on in an emergency would never fit tightly against the skin of their face.
“Sir, what do you do in case you have to use your oxygen?” The question that comes immediately is: “Are you a pilot?” Yes, I was. “It’s quite simple sir, we’re dying and so are all the passengers on board, because we’re not allowed to shave – the mask is no use at all with all that hair on our faces.” Someone else who’s not really into beard pressure.
There are of course two pilots and there is also a steward. After the completely normal start in Kabul, he comes through the rows and distributes cans of cola. What else? As usual, it is a bit bumpy over the Hindu Kush, but the whole flight takes only about an hour. In the middle of a high plateau the runway is suddenly visible. Once it is flown over – maybe to scare away a few goats, then the landing.
Here it is really cold. While we wait for our luggage to be loaded from the hold onto a cart, I put my collar up and try to defy the biting wind. Kay and I each take an aluminium box, Mustafa carries the tripod packed in a quiver. Golly, I think to myself, actually he’s mainly our chaperone… At the barrack, which is the airport terminal here, a dark green jeep is waiting for us. It’s a Russian-built UAZ tundra, maybe left over from the Soviet occupation. I don’t think I’ve ever seen another car with such hard suspension. I’m not even sure that the axles are sprung at all. Perhaps it is only our spinal discs that have to absorb the hard impacts. So this is our car with driver here in Mazar-E-Sharif. It’s only a few miles to the centre of town. Wrecks of military vehicles lie close together next to the road. Until 1998 there were bloody battles here between the troops of Shah Masoud, the chief of the Northern Alliance, and the Taliban warriors. Now, Mustafa assures us, everything is firmly under the control of the government of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. The Taliban, then. “And of course,” says our watchdog, interpreter and tripod carrier, “the same laws apply here as in Kabul.”
We are accommodated in a tiny hotel in the city centre. Somehow it seems to me that the city is in a frenzy. Riders on decorated horses trot through the streets, groups of men stand together, loudly palaver and loud music can be heard from the tea houses. Music? Just a moment! But that’s forbidden!
Mustafa must explain, but he can’t. He has no idea what’s going on. A quick chat with another man at the hotel will clear everything up. Tomorrow, the Buzkashi championships will be held here. It’s a wild game where a couple of horsemen are hunting the bellows of a goat. Also a game that was banned by the government in 1996. The Taliban laws clearly state “Any form of play or sport in public is not allowed”. Mustafa still cannot explain it.
After lunch we are picked up by Sami, a representative of the mayor. I don’t know who organised this. The man is friendly and very relaxed and he speaks English quite well. We would like to go with him to one of the camps where a large part of the population still has to live. Almost two thirds of the city was destroyed in the battles between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban. So far only a fraction of it has been rebuilt. For the first time, things could get dicey for us in the camp. Of course we don’t just want to shoot the camp, we also want to talk to the people, do some interviews. It is well known that filming and photographing of living beings is forbidden under penalty.
The representative of the city government leads us through one of the camps, talks to a few people every now and then. At centrally located pumps women fill their water canisters, small kiosks offer tea leaves, vegetables, coke and cookies. A tall, grey-haired man with a flashing gold tooth approaches us. Sami introduces him. It’s Reza, the boss of this camp. A huge guy with hands like excavator shovels and apparently nice and friendly. Via Mustafa we ask him if we can do a short interview with him. But Mustafa doesn’t translate but instead speaks to Sami in Dari. Then our watchdog suddenly disappears into the crowd of people.
The mayor’s representative asks us to ask the questions. Kay is ready to shoot, I ask in English, Sami translates, Reza answers in Dari and Sami translates back. That goes very well. Then suddenly there is some excitement. Two policemen in uniform rush towards our group, waving their sticks and blowing their whistles.
The next chapter of my Afghanistan Diary will be published on 21 January 2020. It will be titled “March 2001 – Fighting over a dead Goat” 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