March 2001 – Is this how you learn to pray? The night is freezing cold. Everything around me radiates cold. The walls, the stinking wool blankets, the dirty clothes I wear and the stomped down floor anyway. I want a hot tea right now and then I want to get out of here! Or the

March 2001 – Is this how you learn to pray?

The night is freezing cold. Everything around me radiates cold. The walls, the stinking wool blankets, the dirty clothes I wear and the stomped down floor anyway. I want a hot tea right now and then I want to get out of here! Or the other way around. Wishful thinking, nothing more. Only sporadically I can sleep and listen to Mustafa and Kay tossing and turning. Outside it’s quiet, shots can be heard in the distance. Firing bursts from a machine gun. With a muffled “babble” something has fallen from above onto my blanket. One of the insects, a cockroach perhaps, that live in the straw ceiling of our cell. I want that thing gone. Actually, I don’t panic when there are crawling animals on my body. Just in the face I hate it.

If I only knew what time it was. The fact that there is no window and a permanently switched on light bulb on the ceiling makes me lose all sense of time. Outside the door, footsteps shuffle by. Two men? Yes, they speak softly. I wonder if the sun has risen yet. A door squeaks in its hinges. Then loud voices next door, behind the wall of our cell. Two or three men shout at each other, then a thud follows. Someone whimpers next door. Of course, Kay and Mustafa are awake by now, too. Our interpreter tries to understand what is being shouted behind the wall. Several blows against our wall. From the sounds I can now clearly hear that there are obviously two men beating up a third. The victim is now moaning miserably, the beating and roaring continues.

One of the very, very rare press-briefings by the Taliban Government

“The man missed the Namaz, the compulsory prayer in the evening,” Mustafa believes to understand. According to the duties of Muslims, every man has to do his prayer five times a day. The Taliban government made this a rule a law. Violating is punishable by law. “Those over there,” our translator continues, “are punishing a man for not praying at all or not praying ‘right’.” Under the laws now in force, such penalties may be executed immediately without the need to hear a judge. After a few minutes, the door next door will slam shut. What remains is a whimpering and probably humiliated and hurt person. Maybe someone who is not a strict believer and wants to live the way he himself thinks is right.

Sleep is no longer an option. The three of us discuss gloomily about the future of Afghanistan, about the way the Taliban interpret Islam and about the meaning of religions in general. About how religion is abused by some people or organisations to suppress or indoctrinate. Where will this lead here in Afghanistan? The country is already largely isolated from the international community. How can it exist without functioning relations with the outside world? To put it simply: where will the Taliban and their subjects get their satellite telephones, computers and cars from in the future, if at some point no manufacturer is willing or able to supply Afghanistan? The answer is obvious: via third countries like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan or the United Arab Emirates – but for much more money than direct imports. Money that has to be squeezed out of the population or obtained through criminal activities.

At some point the door is opened. It wakes me up, so I must have slept a little at least. It looks as if it’s still early in the morning. Cold air flows into our cell, the man at the door turns up his nose. Should we already be emitting unpleasant smells in our dirty clothes? “Out, come with me,” means his hand gesture.

Outside, under the tin roof, the men in black dresses are again waiting for us. A new face is there. An obviously older man with a long white beard. Also in black but with a dark grey turban. The others seem to treat him with respect. To my astonishment we get hot tea and a few pieces of flat bread. When I hint that I would like to at least wash my hands, the three of us are led, as always one after the other, to the toilet and the water basin.

Our camera stands on a platform under the corrugated iron roof. Next to it a video player and a television set. Kay can hardly suppress a grin. I wonder how the Taliban police got hold of the two devices with the strictest video and TV ban and who is now being punished for possession of these illicit items. The old man with the beard presents himself as an imam and as a judge according to Islamic law. He wants to see what is on the video cassette in our camera. Kay takes the cassette out and passes it on to the Imam.

He puts it in the hand of one of the younger ones who had previously switched on the television and video recorder. Now, on closer inspection, it is also clear to me why Kay smiled into himself a few minutes ago. The device they have procured is a VHS video recorder. Such a thing, which was in every living room in Germany until the DVD was launched.

There’s going to be a problem right now and then either a catastrophe or just an embarrassment. The professional video cassettes used for television have absolutely nothing to do with the VHS home video system. Apart from the fact that our tapes are only 30 minutes long, the cassettes are also narrower but thicker than the slot in the recorder which is now in front of us. After only a few seconds, the young man operating the procured equipment looks a bit desperate. The cassette of these infidel foreigners just doesn’t want to fit in. The faces of the Taliban policemen speak of a lack of understanding. The old, bearded man shouts in a thunderous voice something into the round – Mustafa obviously does not dare to translate directly. Then the imam hisses a few sentences addressed to our translator and Mustafa repeats in English: “They will find a way to watch our video material. Tomorrow an adulteress would be stoned to death in the stadium. We would go there together.”

The next chapter of my Afghanistan Diary will be published on 12 May 2020. It will be titled “March 2001 – The little Man in white” 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

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