The soul requires intensity. Saul Bellow
IT WAS LIGHT by the time the bus reached Peshawar. February 28, 1988. I hadn't gotten more than three hours real sleep in two days, and the city was dingy. Lining the street were the universal dirty white no-architecture plastered cubes of Mexico and Thailand and Tanzania and everywhere that is poor. The vague area where a sidewalk should be was alive with people, almost all men in shirts down to their knees and baggy pants that matched the shirts in color, like a casual uniform. Some of them, ragged and severe in black beards, looked as if they had just gotten in from the hills.
I had come to see the war in Afghanistan. I knew it would take time to get that far—but Peshawar wouldn't be a waste of time, either. This city in northern Pakistan was the nerve center of the Resistance. The Khyber Pass was only a dozen miles down the road; the offices of the mujahideen rebels were here; there was plenty to learn.
By 1988 the war in Afghanistan between the mujahideen (fighters of the jihad or holy war), or freedom fighters as Ronald Reagan called them, and the Soviets and their Afghan communist clients had been going on for ten years. The fighting had actually started in 1978 with the communist coup, but the real war erupted when the Soviets, after twenty months of growing rebellion, inserted 100,000 troops just after Christmas, 1979. In the classic pattern, the government now controlled the cities and main roads, the guerillas the countryside, except in this case the government instead of the guerillas was communist. The Resistance, as the mujahideen side was also called, was composed of two parts: the commanders inside Afghanistan and the political parties in exile in Peshawar.
I began my search in Peshawar by calling a man whose name I had, Ismail, who was associated somehow with one of the Resistance parties. But carefully…not from the hotel. Slinging my money pouch underneath my shirt,