ISMAIL'S OFFICE was located in an upper middle-class section of large pastel-colored houses surrounded by high walls and metal gates decorated with scrollwork. The Afghans were not roughing it here. I had expected something more run down but also more formal, that is, office-like. And where were the guards?
We took off our shoes at the house door. The interior was gloomy, and so quiet it seemed deserted. Ismail escorted me into a room where five or six Afghans were sitting around on a large blue rug and in easy chairs with carved wooden arms. Otherwise the space was bare. Empty whitewashed plaster walls. No office trappings. A single typewriter on a low coffee table. A small man with a hump sat behind it. The air was charged. In my mind was the image of the fighters I had been wanting to meet. The occupant of the largest chair, a lanky, friendly, jokey guy, loosened up the atmosphere and welcomed me in patched-together but voluble English: they were happy to see me; could they be of service? Whatever they were doing was set aside and tea ordered.
This was the office of Ahmad Zia, brother of the famous commander Ahmad Shah Massoud. Massoud was associated with the Jamiat party, one of the most powerful fundamentalist parties, so this was also a Jamiat office. Massoud's photograph hung out from the wall at a crazy 45-degree angle: skinny face with big, bent nose and scraggly beard. He looked a little like Bob Dylan. There was a suggestion of dreamy kindness in Massoud's features that must have helped him with his Western admirers. He had held off at least five major Soviet attacks, fighting in the Panjshir Valley northeast of Kabul for almost ten years without leaving the country. And who is that in the other picture? I asked. Ah, that is Professor (Oostahz) Rabbani, the leader of the Jamiat party. With his white beard, he looked rather mild, thoughtful, not like the head of a fire-eating fundamentalist party. And indeed Burhanudeen Rabbani was considered a moderate among the fundamentalists; he was said to favor a