Fourth book – Politics is a dirty business August 2009 – Training according to old German rules It takes at least a few seconds for the gun smoke from the Kalashnikov to dissipate. The police student next to me puts the gun aside and grins happily at his teacher, at Kay (with the camera) and
Fourth book – Politics is a dirty business
August 2009 – Training according to old German rules
It takes at least a few seconds for the gun smoke from the Kalashnikov to dissipate. The police student next to me puts the gun aside and grins happily at his teacher, at Kay (with the camera) and me. Three bull’s-eyes he has landed on the target almost 100 metres away. We are standing in the shooting range of the police school in Kabul and guys in uniform fire as much as they can. Kay is filming and luckily is wearing headphones to control the sound of the recording. How enviable. Nobody else here wears ear protection – not even these little plastic plugs that you can put in your ear canal.
With a few hand movements I ask the shooting instructor to step outside. Kay follows, I already have the microphone for the interview in my hand. “How long do the recruits have to practice before they can handle the AK-47 sufficiently?” I ask him in English. “Sorry, I don’t understand you, could you speak a little louder?” Sure I can! And then it becomes clear very quickly that the poor guy can hardly hear anything. I forget about my original question. Now I want to know how he feels about wearing hearing protection. “Oh, I don’t need to,” he yells into our microphone, “I don’t mind the noise, I’ve been doing it for two years and I’m completely used to it.”
German teachers teach German police work at the police school. With translators, of course. Tracing, interrogation methods, rights of the arrested person, comparing fingerprints, driving techniques. Everything the Afghan police officer urgently needs to know. With teaching material in German, discarded by various police authorities in Germany. Marching outside, it seems that we Germans can teach exactly that. Tight commandos and again and again hopeless chaos.
As before, we work with Wahab. He is our driver, guide and interpreter. He was in Germany for a long time, fleeing the war and the Taliban. His German is perfect. Only a few years ago he came back to Kabul to care for his sick father. Here at the police school he seems to know everything and when I ask him, he tells me that he was an officer in the Kabul police before he fled.
Kay shoots what he thinks is important. In fact, we are waiting for the head of the school, a colonel in the National Police, to finally be ready for the interview. At some point, we almost lost our appetite, one of the recruits comes running and asks us into the inner sanctum.
The boss has indeed furnished his office quite individually. Two plush sofas, a table painted with flaking gold bronze and lots of verses from the Holy Koran on the walls. He sits at his desk, weighs at least 140 kilos and has a very used-looking Kalashnikov hanging on the wall behind him. When he sees Wahab come into the room, the fat man jumps up, takes our driver in his arms and the ranting of Pashto sounds as if two friends had not seen each other for many years.
Microphone, tripod with camera and the little light we have with us are quickly set up. I barely manage to ask my first question when he starts trying to talk my head off. As if in an endless loop he repeats that the cooperation with the Germans would be so great and how grateful one is that with help from Berlin good policemen can be trained here. Anyway, he thinks it’s great that the whole police academy, which only reopened in 2002, is a gift from the Germans. From the year 1935 – two years after the Nazis seized power. The police colonel speaks without drawing a breath, his effusion will hardly be cut later. After 10 or 15 minutes I thank him with the kindest words and stop the “interview”. Now humming and hawing a bit, the uniformed heavyweight. Finally he asks Kay to bring the camera out of the room and if possible into our car.
I wonder what’s next? After a glass of tea he starts to tell in a clear, structured way and with clear words what is on his mind, but what he doesn’t dare to tell the German television: “Thousands of policemen we train here. Criminologists, protective police, traffic police, bodyguards and also people for the secret service. Many of them real dummies, almost half of them can neither read nor write when they start their training with us.” Fresh green tea is doing the round, suddenly there’s a big bowl of sweets on the table. “But there are really good people among them. A handful of women and lots of men.” After completing their training, he continues, the finished police officers get their uniforms and one or two weapons. Often a pistol and a Kalashnikov assault rifle. “Then often less than four weeks pass, about a third of the new policemen suddenly disappear without logging off, leaving no trace.” The colonel seems really distressed, looks at me sadly. “Well,” he sums it up, “the Taliban, the warlords and the drug barons simply pay more than the 100 to 150 dollars a month that the fresh officers get from the Afghan police.”
This time we are in Kabul to cover the presidential election. Our hotel in Kabul is very posh. The Serena Hotel was only completed in 2005 and belongs to an international chain of five-star hotels owned by the Aga Khan Foundation. Unlike in other parts of the world, the Serena here is more of a fortress than a classic luxury hotel. The only way in is through various locks and detectors, through massive iron gates and past several rows of sandbag barriers. Nevertheless, one and a half year ago, an assassin managed to get into the fitness room of the hotel and detonated his bomb there. Six people were killed.
Lots of guests call it “the most expensive prison in the world”. The experts responsible for security at the Deutsche Welle in Germany have instructed us to spend our free time exclusively inside the hotels. We are also supposed to take our meals there. But they are so expensive in Serena that our expense allowance is far exceeded and we have to pay the additional costs ourselves. Has anyone ever thought about that? With all caution we go for a meal in the city from time to time despite the different instructions. In a really good restaurant we pay there less than a quarter of the price that is charged in the hotel. For most probably better food.
Unlike three years ago, there are not many German journalists allowed to report from Afghanistan anymore. Before October 2006 there were always young men and women who wanted to make a name for themselves with reports from Afghanistan. They often took incalculable risks to produce and sell exciting reports to newspapers, radio and television. Publishers and broadcasters often and gladly took up the offer – usually the stories of the young daredevils were cheaper and often more exciting than those of the professionals. In that October, two colleagues from Deutsche Welle were murdered in Afghanistan.
Shortly afterwards, something happened that I had suggested years before: most station heads in Germany agreed that only those journalists should be allowed to war and crisis zones who had previously completed a recognised security training course. I had already done my “crisis training” after working in Somalia, at the beginning of the 1990s (with a couple of fresh-ups later) and on my own account.
It will be a few more days before the Afghans go to the ballot boxes. Hamid Karzai, the incumbent president seems to be fighting with all means to be re-elected. The editorial office in Berlin knows that we still have a few days until election day and comes up with an interesting proposal.
So this is now already the forth book of my Afghanistan diary. The next chapter will be published on 23 June 2020. It will be named “August 2009 – Mercedes is taking cover” 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!)