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									Afghanistân - A Personal (first-hand) Glimpse - pre-attacks

Mahan Hussain Mirza

We crossed the Chaman border at Dhuhr. The Talibân received us as official
guests of the state. We boarded the Toyota Land Cruiser and 4x4 pick-ups.
The road to Kandahar was devastated. One person sincerely asked, breaking
the eerie silence, "was there ever a road here?" Red signs on either side marked
the danger area - land mines. There were occasional huts along the way selling
juice and chips. The terrain was rocky and desert like. Little girls, boys, men
(and women farther away) would be seen from time to time with shovels (as if
repairing the road for the travellers) with outstretched hands for help, staring at
us as we indifferently zoomed past, leaving them in a trail of dust. As we
entered the city of Kandahar, we saw a sign pointing towards the clinic of Dr.
Laila Siddique, a woman. We arrived the day Mulla Rabbani, the prime
minister, was being laid to rest. As we waited in the burial ground, there was a
terrible sand storm approaching from the north. It could be seen coming in,
taking the entire horizon within its grip. As it hit, breathing became a problem,
and vision impossible. A young Afghan boy offered to share his chadar, a
large piece of fabric that is part of their outfit. I accepted, my anxiety quelled
with his calm poise and comforting smile. He knew that I was not from here.

We shared the same chadar for prayer. Kandahar has cool nights and warm
days, the breeze at night like a cool silky garment. The state guesthouse has
flowers outside where we would sit and gaze at the stars sipping Afghan tea. It
is the city of Mulla 'Umar, known as Amîr-ul-Mu'minîn (commander of the
faithful). We met him in his compound just outside the city. He was moved
there after an attempt on his life in which he lost his wife and child. Beautiful
and lush Afghan gardens with grape vines and pomegranate trees surround the
compound, which is in the shade of a hill identical to Jabal An-Nur (where the
first revelation of the Qur'ân was received).

Mulla 'Umar is extremely shy, soft-spoken, and a man of few words. He led
the prayer and hugged us all, including a gentleman in our group without a
beard. He has one eye, the other lost in battle against the Russians. We met
other leaders and ministers of the Talibân government and heard their story.

They told us that before they took over, the warlords had divided the territories
amongst themselves and no woman or boy was safe from their desires. The
warlords would chase women down, some of who chose to throw themselves
out their apartment window on the fourth floor rather than be captured by these
monsters. They refused a pregnant woman transit in order to see her in labour.
They mercilessly taxed every passer-by. In the face of these circumstances, the
Talibân rose, disarmed the nation, and drove out the warlords (who now oppose
them as the Northern Alliance). The Talibân (students) stood up against these
horrific circumstances, and governance has now been thrust upon them.

They are looking for Muslims to come and invest in building the nation, and
appealed to us to take their case to our people. Their servants could not be told
apart from their leaders, reminiscing the romantic and mystic days of the
pious Caliphate of Islâm. Our flight to Kabul was in a military aircraft. We
boarded from the rear cargo area. Some sat on benches and some on the floor -
I was on the floor. The flight lasted an hour and ten minutes. We were
received in Kabul with the highest state protocol. Two shining black Mercedes
and a coaster took us to Aryana Hotel, where we were served Pepsi and that
irresistible Afghan tea. From the hotel we could see the site where Najibullâh
was hanged.

Kabul is six thousand feet high, surrounded by hills, with natural greenery and
bodies of water, and cold. We toured the city with the Taliban. We saw the
hills that Dostum and Ahmed Shah Masood used to fight each other and
destroy Kabul in the process. No amount of exaggeration is possible to
describe the rubble that remains of the once glimmering city. I sat in the
coaster, silently remembering ayât of the Qur'ân to calm myself. We passed
the school district, where we were told that the university had a thousand
women studying to be doctors. There were programs in place to include girls
in primary education in the mosques, but no arrangements yet for older girls
due to requirements of segregation. The Ballroom of the Intercontinental Hotel
is now a mosque. In the bazaar, I converted a hundred rupees into Afghan
currency to give to the poor, and got a hundred and twenty thousand in return.
On the return flight to Kandahar, I got a place in the cockpit standing behind
the co-pilot.

The crew was in traditional Afghan garb, speaking Pushto. The controls were
in Russian. We returned to Quetta after Friday prayers in Kandahar. I made
the mistake of taking out my remaining Afghan currency to give to poor
children and women outside the mosque and was practically knocked down in
frenzy. Before mounting the car I called a little Afghan boy from amongst the
crowd who had been one of those chasing me and gave him five thousand. I
left with a wrenched heart, looking another beautiful little child in the eyes as
we drove off - her hand outstretched. I still had money in my pocket.

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