From under the linoleum
Old newspapers show Mussolini's imperialism looked a lot like today's

I sat on the floor and picked through the tragedy of the country we now call Ethiopia laid out on the yellowing pages. It was eerily reminiscent of the current Iraq adventure.

A tale for our times
The December 1934 assassination of Sergei Kirov

Seventy years on, the killing of Sergei Kirov casts an eerie light on the events of 11 September 2001, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the “war on Terror” and the state-sponsored hysteria surrounding the shadowy figures of Osama bin Ladin and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Ninety-three years of bombing the Arabs
It was the Italians, hell-bent on acquiring an African empire, who got the ball rolling. In 1911 the Libyan Arab tribes opposed an Italian invasion. Their civilians were the first people in the world to be bombed from the air.

Dispossessed all over again
After spending nearly two months in the West Bank the pull towards my village was growing stronger, especially after being detained twice and threatened with deportation … an Australian Palestinian returns to her ancestral home.

The tragic inevitability of a forlorn hope
Australia slides further into the Iraq quagmire
Cabinet documents recently released under the 50-year rule show that, in 1954, Liberal (conservative) Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, and key figures in his Cabinet were extremely gloomy about the prospects for success in an American war against nationalists in Indochina. But eventually they went to the Vietnam War anyway.

Bombing King David
One man’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist

Some historians date the beginning of modern terrorism from the 1946 bombing by Zionist terrorists of the British military HQ in Jerusalem.

Don’t loiter near the exit
Military debacle and economic decline haunt the Bush regime

When I was just a young possum in the school cadet corps there was a hoary old war story that we all knew. It was almost certainly apocryphal, but it ruefully expressed a nasty historic truth about the US role in the demise of the British Empire.


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Tea with the Taliban

The Great Crusade Part 2

27 October 2001

When 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."

George W. Bush (1999)

Our 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.

I 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.

And 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".

That night, a note was slipped under my door.

The 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 Road.

There 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.

On 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.

"Why Afghanistan?" I asked as our overloaded truck inched southward.

"It 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.

"Then 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."

"They bombed Kabul way back then?"

"Ahrrrr 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."

"And your dad? What did he die of?" I asked. I was beginning to get a bad feeling about the family's luck.

"Cirrhosis of the liver. Whisky, you know, the white man's burden."

We 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 kilometres ahead.

I got out to stretch my tail. About a hundred men were squatting in a circle and a heated debate was going on.

Our Afghan driver chatted shyly to one of the men on the edge of the group. I asked what was going on.

"Now 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.

The 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 with Kalashnikovs.

When 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.

"They are Talibs now, but they are in confusion", the driver said to me. "Perhaps they will cross over to the Alliance. They are meeting to decide."

Outside 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", he said.

Inside, some Taliban fighters were huddled anxiously around a little radio. "You are an Australian Possum", said one of them, in passable English.

"How did you know?" I asked, sipping sweet tea and wondering if Bruce had passed this way.

"My cousin, he lives in Sydney. Arncliffe. Near the park." Suddenly there was wild cheering. I asked him what had happened.

"Now we are doing well against the NA."

"You have a victory against the Northern Alliance?"

"Oh 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 15 boundaries."

• • •

Now click here for for Part 3 of The Great Crusade