August 2009 – A prince with a broom At last we are getting the new press card introduced especially for the elections. We had applied for it immediately after our arrival in Kabul. The cards will be issued and handed over to us in exactly the same room in the Foreign Ministry where I was

August 2009 – A prince with a broom

At last we are getting the new press card introduced especially for the elections. We had applied for it immediately after our arrival in Kabul. The cards will be issued and handed over to us in exactly the same room in the Foreign Ministry where I was already sitting in 1996 and 2001. Has the head of the department picked up? The face looks very familiar. The old rickety typewriters have been replaced by computers and the “new” ID cards are trilingual. English, Pashto and Dari.

Wahab, our driver, says that today is Environment Day all over Afghanistan. I wonder if the environment is an urgent problem in Afghanistan? Everywhere people are supposed to clean the streets, in the capital the “Kabul River” is supposed to be cleared out and a demonstrative action with a person very popular with the people would take place in Shar-E-Naw-Park in the afternoon. From this action for the cleanliness of the country we’ll make a film for German TV, we decide together.

Smoke over the Tip – Children digging for metal and glass (Still from Video)

We start at the river, which is only a little bit more than a brook since several years. It has its source almost 100 kilometres west of here, below the Unai Pass, flows through Kabul and Jalalabad and a good 350 kilometres further east, in Pakistan, then into the Indus and with it into the Indian Ocean. In the seventies and eighties, the Kabul River was still a flowing, clear body of water. Of course, laundry has always been washed in the river, on weekends cars stood on the banks and dirt was removed with a lot of water. The river endured this, was popular bathing water for the youth. Today I see in the bed of the Kabul River not much more than a disgustingly stinking cesspool.

Everything you can imagine as garbage, including various slaughterhouse waste, can be found in and around the river. At the end of the day the local television reports that among other things the bodies of two long missing persons have been discovered. The military in particular has apparently mobilised hundreds of men to clean the riverbed. Heavy army trucks are parked on the river banks, the soldiers are dragging the garbage up the embankment and onto the loading platforms of the trucks. Kay makes, as always, great video clips, we talk to an officer who explains to us in English what is happening here. Then Kay wants to ride on one of the heavily loaded trucks to the place where the bestial stinking garbage is dumped. Wahab an I will follow.

Always parallel to the river we drive in a convoy of trucks for about 40 or 50 minutes in a southwesterly direction. Then the vehicles turn left onto a gravel road. In the air there is the smell of rotten fruit and vegetables, of decay and smouldering plastic. The roadway is full of garbage that has fallen off the trucks. Deep lane grooves in the gravel road. Above us hundreds, maybe thousands of black birds, deafening screams from their beaks. It’s going uphill. The sooty smoke from the exhaust of the truck in front of us temporarily blocks my view. Then we have reached the highest point. Seven or eight trucks are unloading. Some of them are dump trucks or tippers, so it is quick and easy. Others have to laboriously push the stinking garbage from the loading area with pushers, shovels and brooms. A gaggle of children collects metal parts from the garbage, a few donkeys are ready to take the scrap away. Kay films and curses loudly. The stench is actually almost unbearable. The report will be hard to cut, Kay’s curses are of course all on the videotape.

From up here I have a good overview. Below me a valley is actually filled with all kinds of waste. The fatal thing is that the lower end of the valley ends directly at the Kabul River. All the liquids that run out of the garbage dump at the bottom are flowing into the river with complete safety. After almost an hour and with the feeling of having been poisoned by the air we inhaled, we drive back to the city centre with Wahab. After all, we still have a celebrity interview on our list. Our clothes will be emitting bad smells for days to come.

In the middle of the park, a tall figure is standing and swinging a rake. Rough clothing, rubber boots and a Pashtun cap. Around him a couple of men pick up garbage with tools and bare hands. Smiling, the tall man approaches us, greeting us in accent-free English. It is Prince Mustapha Zahir Khan, the grandson of the last king of Afghanistan. At the age of 45, he has learned and experienced a lot. He studied in Canada, England and Austria and was temporarily a diplomat and adviser to his grandfather. In 2005, he founded the National Environmental Protection Organisation of Afghanistan, which he has been leading ever since. It will be a wonderful interview with him and his invitation for dinner promises great things.

*** Translated with the help of (free version) ***

So this is Chapter 57 of my Afghanistan diary. The next chapter will be published on 21 July 2020. It will be named “August 2009 – Stay at Home or we’ll cut your Finger off“. 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.

Leave a Reply