Security, insecurity #2.

Thursday. My parents are due to arrive on Kam Air flight RQ006 at 10am. I leave for the airport with Taher, our driver at 9.00. We get most of the way there without mishap, but3 km from the airport are stopped by barricades and police. They are stopping everyone. Normally being a foreigner I am allowed through. Not today. I try my usual tactics: ‘Let me pass, I have business at the airport’; ‘Let me pass, it is urgent’; ‘Let me pass, you can’t stop me here.’

Nothing works. I play my trump card: ‘Let me pass, I am a foreigner’. The policeman looks at me as though I am an idiot as well. Nothing doing. I leave Taher with the car and walk. That’s the crazy part – no car, but you can get out and walk into the secure area.

A few kilometres on the reason for the barricades is clear: Rohullah Nikpai, the only Afghan ever to win an Olympic medal (Bronze, in Tai kwon Do) and now a national hero, is arriving. There is a parade, convoys of military (I count at least 12 armoured police 4WDs), dozens of Tai kwon Do fighters prancing down the avenue. And on top of a truck festooned with ribbons, Nikpai. Now, astute readers will know how much of a sport buff I am, but even I feel a swell of pride to see this young guy being hailed and welcomed. It is a wonderful kind of underdog story, and it felt good. Afghans obviously felt so – there are posters of him everywhere, he has been given a house and a car and a cheque for $10,000. Poor guy – he will have 10000 people wanting stuff from him now. Probably he will be made into a Bollywood movie star soon – he is good looking and has inspired a whole nation – if only briefly. Being Hazara is doubly good, in my view – a member of the ethnic group that is the most marginalised, was the most persecuted and has suffered the most under successive regimes.

It is a good moment. But it is still stopping me from getting to the airport: the security cordon here is tight, and a policeman calls me over. I tell him I am a writer (kind of true, I do write). I show him my camera. He pats me down and calls someone on his radio. They talk about me for a few minutes. I show him my card. ‘Hagar. Hajer. H-a-jar’, he murmers to himself. I have flashbacks to Jalil.  The policeman gets me to turn the camera on (since Massoud was killed by a camera bomb, all cameras have been seen as potential weapons). The radio crackles again, and he waves me through. I walk confidently up through the next security cordon, and then right into the airport – normally it is impossible to get in here without a valid ticket for travel for the next flight. I walk though into the baggage claim area. No one blinks. There is a hall that leads out to the tarmac. I walk down it. I open the door for several cabin crew arriving and they thank me, and walk on, totally incurious. Two policeman exit, uninterested in this new foreigner who opens doors. It is my turn now, and I open the door, walk through, and I am on the runway. Extraordinary. I watch as Mum and Dad’s flight arrives, I see them walk down the steps and get on the bus and arrive at immigration. I scoot back down the hall, through baggage claim, and ask a guard if I can go into immigration to help them. He refuses, then waves me through, and next thing I am standing in line beside my parents. It is an emotional moment. I have a memory of Mum and Dad with us in Peshawar all those years ago, when they were refused visas by the Taliban and we spent two weeks in Pakistan instead. I remember Dad dreaming of Afghanistan, and telling me how he thought he would never get to visit here. The guard sees Mum’s tears, and calls them to the front of the line. 20 minutes later with their bags collected, we are out into the Kabul sunshine.

Welcome to Afghanistan Mum and Dad.



We got our registration. We got our visas, our work permits, our foreigners registrations cards, our ID cards, our bell-bottomed jazz pants and our three headed monkeys. We can stay here, work, drive, eat and sweat, and no one can tell us not to. Until they do. This is Afghanistan. No guarantees, that’s a promise.

I won’t elaborate on the long final stages. Suffice to say Jalil was involved. Alot. There were trips to the bank. Waiting in queues. $1000 bond was handed over to a nameless man. Signatures were needed. Patience was called for. Tempers flared and were quelled. Elaborate Dari was spoken and thanks were given, repeatedly. Hands were shaken, many times. Men were kissed, sometimes twice, sometimes by accident.

In the long dark corridor of waiting that we slowly traversed, I passed the time by imagining two graveyards out the front of the Ministry of Economy, one for NGO leaders who had grown old and died waiting for registration, another for MOE staff who had been terminated abruptly by NGO leaders who had finally cracked. Fortunately neither of these scenarios eventuated for me, and on Monday afternoon I emerged triumphant, with the Certificate of Registration.

We celebrated by having Qabuli Pilau for lunch, and it tasted all the sweeter for our success. Actually, I made that up. It was not a very good pilau. The meat and the rice were very dry, the sultanas like little mouse poos, and the salad was yellowish. It was hot and foody, that’s about all you can say for it.

I took my camera with me on the many trips into town – some photos below.  Some of these I plan to use for Hagar promotion purposes, I have manipulated them a bit in photoshop to bring out the atmospherics. Check out the Humvee – standard transport for the US troops. Ordinary people are required to give them a 50m safety perimeter, or risk getting shot. ‘Lethal force may be used’ as they say. They don’t like people taking their photos either – hence the hurried covert picture. Wouldn’t want to be lethally forced just after we get our registration…


A present for Jalil: Staying in Afghanistan part III

On Monday, I needed to go back into the crazy part of Kabul for a few things, so being the diplomat, I decided to drop in on Jalil and take him a present of a few files. I bought some on the way, and without too much difficulty parked in the Ministry of Economy grounds and went upstairs. (Now I know this may look like a bribe. And in a sense, you could describe it like that. Or you could call it an expression of thanks that he helped me with a file of his own when he didn’t have to. And that I was providing him with a spare file for the next person who came along in my position. Obligation, thanks, hospitality and reciprocity are perceived and enacted differently here. Julie and I once admired a carpet in someones guest room, and the next day he gave it to us. In relative value, it was probably worth about $2000 to him…)

I climbed the stairs to the third floor and with some trepidation, knocked on the door, and went in (you never wait to be called in in Afghanistan, you just knock on enter). Jalil was crouched (still) but behind a different desk. He welcomed me warmly and clucked as he took the files. We used one to put my documentation in, which, I noticed with chagrin, was lying precisely where it was left last week: on the bottom shelf of the bookcase, gathering dust. It clearly had not moved.

As casually as I could, I asked about when the High Commission For Approving New NGOs might meet and a crafty look crossed Jalil’s face. ‘Soon, soon’, he replied. ‘Maybe even this week’. A newcomer to Afghanistan would go away encouraged by this exchange, but I know better than to be encouraged so easily. ‘Maybe this week’ is shorthand for, ‘I have no idea. It’s not really my business. I have no control over it, and no interest in it. In fact, I don’t really know what you are talking about.’ I nodded to Jalil, feigning gratitude, and murmured ‘Good, good. That is very reasonable.’

Jalil and I chatted for a while longer, though he soon started using incredibly complicated Farsi which I was troubled to fully understand. I thought of telling him to eschew obfuscation and extraneous prolixity, but I couldnt think of the words in Farsi. No doubt he could have.

After a few more minutes I took my leave, and left Jalil to crouch again. I will call him on Thursday. Just to make sure my file is still where I left it.