Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Risking My Life for Your Pictures

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Risking My Life for Your Pictures

Article excerpt

RAC I N G t h ro u g h Kabul's darkened streets in a beaten-up old taxi, I'm counting my blessings. This is Sunday, and we are still in Afghanistan. Still free to move around and report. We are about to hit the highway for a bone-shaking, 14-hour overnight drive to the Taliban's spiritual capital, Kandahar, 300 miles to the south, to appeal for our right to stay in the country and continue reporting.

Only a mad scramble has got us to this point. On Friday we had to sign a letter saying that we accepted the government could no longer guarantee our safety. All but one other journalist had left town. A government official told us that, should America strike Afghanistan, mob vengeance would rule. He said that we would be torn apart by so many hands that no one in the crowd would be able to get a single piece of flesh.

Afghans are resilient, he told me.

"Our blood has been squeezed out ... now we are made of concrete and steel." I assured him that we were too. He relented - hence the disclaimer saying that we could stay.

He seemed convinced, even if I wasn't. I knew the Taliban were genuine when they said they couldn't control angry crowds. In 1998, when America launched a cruise-missile attack on Afghanistan following the bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, an Italian aid worker was shot dead and many United Nations compounds attacked and ransacked.

Then on Sunday morning the message came from the Foreign Ministry that CNN must leave, along with all other foreigners.

The head of protocol told me this

order came from the highest authority, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.

We watched as the International Committee of the Red Cross, the die-hards of all international relief groups, pulled out. The pressure was on again our letter meant nothing. I secured permission to drive to Kandahar to petition the Foreign Minister in person: we needed to buy time in Afghanistan.

This is how we find ourselves racing across the city in an effort to beat the 10pm curfew. Our translator tells me that our driver hasn't slept in a day, having just driven up from Kandahar. Great.

After 22 years of war, the country's infrastructure and economy have been torn apart - imagine driving from London to Edinburgh on farm tracks. The tarmac on almost all roads has simply crumbled and gone. And now our driver is going to get us killed by falling asleep at the wheel.

Fourteen hours later we arrive in Kandahar. The driver had stayed awake.

Here in the spiritual capital, the Taliban presence seems even greater than in Kabul.

Few women and children can be seen in the streets. A government official told me that, where they were able, families were getting women and children either out of the country or to relatives in outlying villages. …

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