BACK IN PESHAWAR, it was blazing hot and pairs of Pakistani jet fighters regularly took off from the airport, marking the nervousness over the death of Zia ul-Haq. When prayer time came around, I felt anxious. Weren't they going to pray? Relax, Khalil and his friends told me. And we didn't pray. I was somewhat shocked. Now I noticed how lax they were. Nothing was said about Islam; it receded into the background.
During the time I was in Kunar, Khalil had accompanied a group of aid people to Massoud's headquarters in northeastern Afghanistan. Like Ismail, Khalil was now working for VITA (I congratulated him: he was in the bucks, too), and it was for them that he went to Panjshir. I asked him if he had a chance to talk with Massoud. Oh yes, several times, he said, rather proudly. So what was Massoud like? “Like…” groping for the word to complete his simile, he skidded his hand in the air to illustrate and then in his exasperation at not finding the English word, held some imaginary food in his fist to eat…“Banana, ” I guessed. Yes, that was it. “Slippery, ” I said, surprised. “Yes, ” he said, happy to find the word, but slightly distressed, “slippery.” This was puzzling. The great Massoud slippery? Finally, I interpreted it as the encounter of an innocent with a politician; perhaps.
But Khalil also had other, more disturbing news. As I had heard in Kunar, the northern city of Kunduz had been taken by the mujahideen, then lost again. Surprisingly, Khalil's family was still living in Kunduz, but since the fighting began he hadn't heard anything from them. And there was more: when the mujahideen took Kunduz, law and order completely broke down. Khalil told the story with few words, but the distress was clear on his face.
Avery later confirmed the Kunduz story (or, more carefully, qualified it as “probably true”). He said the mujahideen looted, robbed banks, ran wild. Anders Fange, the head of the Swedish Relief Committee, reputedly one of the best informed foreign observers, revealed that sources very close to the action (was the slight pause here so I could register how well connected he