more things change ...
The Great Crusade Part 3
after day, Kabul's dusty streets shook from bombing and the rumble of
artillery crept closer.
obsession with finding my old business partner had become dangerously
mad, I reflected. Since arriving with the aid convoy from Tajikistan
I'd taken a room in a backpackers hostel that had seen better decades
and spent weeks shuffling around a crazy city under siege, visiting
tea houses and half-deserted government offices asking after Bruce.
one evening, a nervous Taliban in threadbare cleric's garb came to the
hostel and told me I must follow him to the office of the security police.
"By yourself only", he said, ominously.
offices were guarded by a clutch of jittery fighters draped about with
Kalashnikovs and rocket-propelled grenades. In the courtyard others
were burning documents and loading boxes of ammunition into a fleet
of battered trucks. The smell of retreat was in the air.
young mullah into whose half-ransacked office I was escorted spoke English
with a London accent. He offered me a chair and a bottle of mineral
have not found the possum you are looking for", he observed. He
had the security apparatchik's cold, sly smile.
I've asked after Bruce all over town. I was wondering why you hadn't
called me in earlier. You must think I'm stone crazy coming here at
a time like this. I'm surprised I haven't been arrested as a spy."
there's no mystery. We know you're not a spy. In fact, we know all about
you -- our cause has many ears, and they are bigger than yours, furry
one. We also are looking for Bruce because he double-crossed us. For
years, while we were fighting the Northern Alliance, he was arranging
to sell our opium crop abroad. Then we took the Americans' money to
end the opium trade. We stopped the farmers growing poppies and gave
your friend a million US dollars to leave Afghanistan and go away. But
then we find he is selling opium for the Northern Alliance. Also, he
knows a lot about us and we think he has come back to Kabul undercover,
to work for that dog Rabbani. We thought perhaps he would seek you out,
and we could catch him, but he didn't, and now it's too late ... we're
leaving Kabul tonight, to go to the hills."
wasn't surprised. It made a lot of sense. Why sit in trenches where
the Americans can bomb you to dust. Much better to split up, go back
to the mountains and villages and bide your time.
will you do with Bruce when you find him?" he asked.
I'll probably just ask him where he's been for all these years. I only
want to understand why he's turned out the way he has. And you, what
would you have done with him?" A smart bomb thumped in not more
than a couple of kilometres away. We both flinched, the building shook.
we would have just, ah, persuaded him to tell who his accomplices were,
then hung him, out in the courtyard there, where we have hung many others",
he said distractedly.
you have a file on Bruce?" I asked.
been sent to Kandahar already. Perhaps, insha Allah, if it, and I, survive
all this, I will send it you a copy."
handed him my business card. "I have something else here you might
like to take', he said. He swung open the door of an ancient safe behind
his desk and took out a faded shoebox.
was full of old Cat Stevens tapes and CDs.
I asked, astonished. "I thought your mob was against music".
well, it made sense at the time. But Stevens was a brother I mean, it
wasn't as if I'd been a Lou Reed fan."
"And why the burqa? the way you treated women? why all that?"
somewhere in the Koran, I think. But don't ask me. I'm just a technical
mullah. I do confessions, I don't do theology."
do you think Osama bin Laden has gone?" I asked, pushing my luck
died of kidney failure, here in Kabul, a week ago. In July, when he
checked into the American Hospital in Dubai, it was his last hurrah.
He has gone to meet Allah."
in the morning the Taliban were indeed gone. I heard the clanking of
tank tracks in the street below, and men shouting and cheering. I walked
to the hostel door and pushed my way past a cheering crowd of Uzbeks
and Hazaras lining the side of the road.
CNN news crew in the back of a pickup truck were driving ahead of the
crowd filming it as it surged alongside a small party of Northern Alliance
soldiers with an old Russian tank. A lone young woman who had thrown
off her burqua was striding along with the men and boys.
is a great day for us, stranger", a man in dark glasses and a black
leather jacket said to me.
indeed, it's nice to see a woman without the burqa", I said.
is just for the reporters of CNN", he replied "We know who
she is. We will kill her later".
click here for the final part of The Great Crusade