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IUK: Fisk - 'The Taliban are not worried about being bombed'
By Robert Fisk

28/10/2001 10:00 pm Sun

'The Taliban are not worried about being bombed'

By Robert Fisk in Peshawar

27 October 2001

The doctor thinks before he speaks, long moments for reflection and concern. His is not the usual story from Kabul and he is too well known to speak freely. He asks me three times not to publish his name.

When I ask him what he'd like to be called, he says he hates falsity. So he will be the Doctor, a children's doctor as it happens, who tells his story wearing a little round white hat and a big, sad smile. He doesn't like the Taliban. But he doesn't like the Americans. He speaks with great precision. When I ask him what the Americans have destroyed at Kabul airport, he replies at once. "Three military aircraft and a Russian-made Tupolev TU-152 airliner of Ariana airlines." I trust him.

In a city without newspapers, Kabul whispers radios. "We follow all the stations because they begin at different times - the Voice of America in Pashtu at 7pm, then we turn to the Pashtu service of the BBC at 8pm," the doctor says. "The best programme is on the BBC Dari (Persian) service - it's Majalaya Osyayeh Miona (Central Asia Magazine) which knows what is happening in Afghanistan - and the worst is Iranian Radio which is very wrong. Before the American attack, it concentrated on anti-Taliban propaganda. But after the attack, it said nothing about the Taliban - it was just against the American attacks and there was a lot of anti-Pakistan propaganda."

And despite all the Taliban prohibitions, some Kabul families still watch television. "They watch it underground, in basements, with wires leading up to little dishes. And when they saw Powell and Musharraf together, holding hands and being friends, well the majority of people when they saw this - when they realised there was to be US-Pakistani co-operation - they felt it was a new aggression against them." The US Secretary of State Colin Powell and Pakistan's self-proclaimed president Pervez Musharraf met in Islamabad on 16 October.

It's not difficult to comprehend the suspicions in those Kabul basements as the radios and television sets mutter ever so softly. The Iranians hate the Taliban, but they hate the Americans even more. The Pakistanis helped to create the Taliban. Now the Americans are friends with the Pakistanis. The Doctor pauses while I work out the underground equations.

"You must understand something," he says suddenly. "Most people, neutral people who're not connected with political groups, they hate the American policy - and if the Taliban would change just 20 per cent of their policy against the people, then the people would stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them. We are waiting for an end to the Taliban policy against women and against education. You see, people will never forget what Pakistan has done to undermine Afghanistan - they see Pakistan as the eternal enemy."

The Doctor wonders if I see what he is trying to say. That Afghans can trust only themselves, I ask? He nods vigorously. "Among educated people, 11 September created a new situation. We knew that America helped to create the Taliban and Osama," - no one in Afghanistan bothers to add "bin Laden" - "and we call them the 'kids' of America and Pakistan. When the first night of attacks came, we didn't know what to expect. It was very sudden but the bombs were on target. There were no injured civilians. Later, the Americans started hitting civilians. Some were very badly wounded and were taken to the Jumhuriyet hospital in the centre of the city. But we were blocked by the Taliban from going to the hospital. We had no contact."

The Doctor complains bitterly that Afghan hospitals have neither medicine nor equipment - "better to have treatment at home," he says at one point - but he is more resentful of the subsequent bombing of Kabul. "On the second night, our neighbour's house was hit. People were buried when a wall collapsed on them but they were not killed. They came out smiling. When military targets were attacked, the Taliban blocked us from going there, just like they did the hospitals. Then the Taliban announced that people were not to come out of their houses. We had to remain close to home. Then they told us to stay inside our houses." When mountain homes were destroyed above Kabul, the Doctor asked if he could help the wounded. The Taliban blocked the roads again.

"At the beginning, 90 per cent of the bombing was on target, but then the Americans started using 1,000lb bombs and areas were badly damaged. When they hit the television transmitter towers, our houses shook and the earth moved and we smelled a lot of smoke. Then Radio Shariat (Taliban Radio) went off the air but the next day I saw them re-assembling a new antenna. The Taliban always did this. Every time something was destroyed, they replaced it at once. They would go round and collect up all the wrecked equipment. The Taliban were very relaxed about this." Here the Doctor pauses again. "I'm trying to describe the Taliban reaction to the American bombing. You know? They weren't interested in the attacks. It was very intriguing - and strange - for me to see this.

"The Taliban told many people that they were going to have the victory. Every night, the Americans bombed around Kabul. But each night, the circle of bombing got closer and closer to the centre - it got narrower and narrower." The Doctor says that the four Afghan de-mining officials killed in the American attacks died because their offices had been rented from Radio Afghanistan - they were killed, he says, when the transmitters were destroyed.

"At night, we heard very heavy sounds, propellers, like low planes and we were told these were 'discovery' aircraft. What are 'discovery' aircraft?" I told the Doctor I thought these were pilotless reconnaissance aircraft to photograph the bomb sites, "drones" in military parlance, the only kind of plane the Taliban can shoot down - so far, at least.

The Doctor's tale is chronological. On the first Friday, the Americans resumed their attacks after Muslim evening prayers, hitting a petrol storage depot. "It was like an earthquake - the ground moved again." Then the Americans turned to a transport depot, old trucks and buses left behind by the Soviets in 1990, then the empty barracks of the so-called Babajan battalion. Babajan long ago left Kabul. He is now a fighter in the equally so-called Northern Alliance.

"The next target was a mile to the north of Kabul in a small valley where the 015 Battalion looks after food storage for the Taliban. The Americans bombed and destroyed all the stocks of food. They used six heavy bombs which exploded at short intervals and the nearest houses - their windows, doors and roofs were all blown off." The Doctor shakes his head repeatedly. He is not going back to Kabul until the war ends.

"Some people in Kabul, some of my friends, think that the Americans will invade. Other people believe - hope - that if (the former king) Zahir Shah comes, he can do something and this will be the end of the war. The more educated people think the Americans will stay a long time in Afghanistan. As for me, I see the Pakistanis and the Americans and the Taliban and Osama as all the same.

"If Osama acted like a terrorist, then so are the Americans, acting like terrorists now. So what if Zahir Shah comes, don't you think American advisors will be behind him? My own feeling is that the Americans are being very stupid. Watch - and you will see."