with the Taliban
Great Crusade Part 2
I was coming up, it was a dangerous world and we knew exactly who
the 'they' were. It was us versus them, and it was clear who them
was. Today we're not so sure who 'they' are, but we know they're there."
W. Bush (1999)
little aid convoy crawled on across thedusty windswept plain towards
snow-covered mountains. We were now deep inside Afghanistan. The safety
of the Hotel Tajikistan seemed light-years behind.
had spent futile days in Dushanbe inquiring after Bruce Possum. Everybody
was helpful and misleading or impassive and hostile in a way I couldn't
quite put my paw on.
there had been unsettling incidents. The CIA black operations boys,
who had all the rooms on the eighth floor, stuck one of those old-time
recruiting posters that say "Uncle Sam Needs You" up in the
bar. By the next day someone had defaced it with a Texta. A turban and
a long black islamist beard had been drawn on the pointing figure of
Uncle Sam and the slogan now read "Uncle OSamA Needs You".
night, a note was slipped under my door.
Possum you seek he is in Afghanistan. He does the deal in Opium for
the Northern Alliance. The Talibs too. I have last seen him on Kabul
was only one thing for it. I looked up Ronnie, a morose but garrulous
Scot, who I'd met in the bar and who'd told me he was leading the last
aid convoy to leave Dushanbe.
the surface, he was a logistics officer with the Unified Afghan Aid
Appeal, something vaguely to do with British churches. I trusted him,
in a strange way, although I had learned that nobody in Dushanbe was
quite what they seemed.
Afghanistan?" I asked as our overloaded truck inched southward.
runs in the family. We've been coming here since the 1830s. My Grrreat,
Grrreat, Grrreat Grrrandfather, Angus, was in the disastrous 1839 invasion.
He didn't get out alive.
my Grrreat, Grrreat, Grrandfather, Hamish, was with General Rrroberts
in the 1878 invasion. The Pathans shot him at the Battle of Maiwand.
Grrreat Grrrandfather Lachlan, he was with the Rrroyal Air Force, when
they carpet bombed Kabul in 1920."
bombed Kabul way back then?"
you bet! Lachlan was a bombardier on the big Handley-Page V, the wurrrlds
first four-engined bomber. Didn't finished them in time for Wurrrld
War One, but they flew one out to bomb the Afghans. He was murdered
by some Pathans in the bazaar in Peshawar. Grrrandfather was with the
Indian Police on the Northwest Frrrontier. He got killed falling off
his horse in 1945. We always won, sort of, but nothing ever changed."
your dad? What did he die of?" I asked. I was beginning to get
a bad feeling about the family's luck.
of the liver. Whisky, you know, the white man's burden."
passed a battery of Russian howitzers behind a low rise and halted at
the final Northern Alliance checkpoint before crossing over into Taliban
territory. The commander radioed to the Taliban roadblock a couple of
got out to stretch my tail. About a hundred men were squatting in a
circle and a heated debate was going on.
Afghan driver chatted shyly to one of the men on the edge of the group.
I asked what was going on.
they are thinking whether to join the Talibs. They are not liking the
English to come here again and are aggrieved the Americans are not giving
them air support", he whispered.
commander waved us on. Just over the crest, crumbling trenches zig-
zagged away on either side of the road, manned by a smattering of men
we reached the Taliban checkpoint it turned out to be a crude wooden
barricade laced with barbed wire not far from a little teahouse. Angus
and the driver spoke to the man in charge.
are Talibs now, but they are in confusion", the driver said to
me. "Perhaps they will cross over to the Alliance. They are meeting
the teahouse, a blind man was selling the emergency ration packs the
US air force had been dropping in the valley. I bought a couple for
the buckwheat stew. "Osama bin Laden himself drank tea here",
some Taliban fighters were huddled anxiously around a little radio.
"You are an Australian Possum", said one of them, in passable
did you know?" I asked, sipping sweet tea and wondering if Bruce
had passed this way.
cousin, he lives in Sydney. Arncliffe. Near the park." Suddenly
there was wild cheering. I asked him what had happened.
we are doing well against the NA."
have a victory against the Northern Alliance?"
no! Not the Northern Alliance, but the Northern Areas of Pakistan in
the Quaid-e-Azam Cricket Trophy. Our national team have gone to a first
innings lead, Praise be Allah. Alam Khan has scored elegant 85, with
click here for for Part 3 of The Great Crusade