Monday, August 16, 2021

Afghanistan: Then, Now and in the Future

Like many people who have spent time in Afghanistan I am watching events unfold with a mix of incredulity and frustration.

No, I didn’t put my life on the line clearing mines or pockets of insurgents as brave troops did in this bewildering, beguiling and bonkers country. But I did share my passion for journalism with around 50 local people who wanted to play a part in rebuilding their society in the aftermath of 9/11 and the fall of the Taliban.

As often happens on these ventures, I learned far more from them than I think they gleaned from me. Tolerance, hospitality, generosity and imagination were all in abundant supply. I lived in a guest house with other ex-pats but worked with local people and quickly came to appreciate where they had come from (Russian occupation, civil war) and where they hoped they were going (a stable, secure society…or America).

Reading Kimberly Dozier’s piece in Time magazine this week (right) made me reflect on what became of the drivers, translators, minders and fixers who looked after me – especially when an impromptu cricket match out in the wilds of Badakhshan turned menacing and I was bundled in the back of the car, covered in blankets and spirited away before the men on mopeds with guns could catch up with us.

We did some great reporting thanks to the efforts of the redoubtable Institute of War and Peace Reporting and I hope in some small way helped to instil a more robust version of journalism to this fractured country.

Bedding down in a former warlord’s outbuilding after feasting on freshly caught quail watching our merry band of reporters transcribing their notes I began to feel we were getting somewhere.

Fast forward 20 years and I fear it all appears to have been in vain.  

On a reporting trip in the interior of Afghanistan we stopped to interview this bunch of coal miners who were digging a shaft at the side of the road.

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