An Afghan Diary
An Afghan Diary
My journey to the Taliban-controlled region of Afghanistan in August 2000 was in fact not planned. I was on my way to Kashmir to follow the 'jihad trail' when I got a call to join my colleague and writer Pepe Escobar, who was working on jihad stories on the Pakistan-Afghan border - he said: “This is (Afghanistan) where it's really happening...”.
Crossing the Afghanistan-Pakistan border by foot at the Khyber pass we spent two weeks driving through the heart of Taliban-Afghanistan to try and get a clear understanding of who the Taliban were and how they held such sway over the populace. We felt we had dropped through a tear in the space-time fabric to the surreal land of corrupted ancient ideologies spouted from the mouths kohl-eyed men driving brand-new Toyota 4x4’s, where photography was outlawed - and because of which, we were arrested on two occasions.
To follow the full story on Afghanistan we knew we also need it to head to the north-east to meet the Taliban opposition, the Northern Alliance, who controlled that portion of the country. This we could not do until a year later in August 2001.
Our first attempt to cross the border from Pakistan to the Northern Alliance area disguised as women wearing full covering burqas failed. We then spent the next three weeks organizing a ride into the country via Tajikistan on a Russian helicopter operated by the Northern Alliance.
Being in the north-east was like being in Shangri-La compared to our time with the Taliban. We worked fairly freely and were eventually granted an interview with the legendary commander, Ahmed Shah Massoud. Despite our two successful Afghan journeys, we felt that the world at the end of August 2001 the media cared little about what was happening in this harsh land.
On September 5th Pepé returned to Bangkok to write, and I to New York. Both of us feeling somewhat dejected at our efforts to garner media attention for this country had fallen short. Little did we know that within a few days of returning our world would change dramatically. Commander Massoud would be assassinated by alleged Al Qaeda operatives on September 9th, one month to the day we met him, and two days later I would be standing next to the World Trade Centre Twin Tower as they collapsed. Our Afghan work immediately became 'relevant' and wanted.