James Fergusson returns after three years to Chak, just 40 miles from Kabul, to find the Taliban’s grip is far stronger than the West will admit
Independent, 14 November 2010
The sound of a propeller engine is audible the moment my fixer and I climb out of the car, causing us new arrivals from Kabul to glance sharply upwards. I have never heard a military drone in action before, and it is entirely invisible in the cold night sky, yet there is no doubt what it is. My first visit to the Taliban since 2007 has only just begun and I am already regretting it. What if the drone is the Hellfire-missile-carrying kind?
Three years ago, the Taliban’s control over this district, Chak, and the 112,000 Pashtun farmers who live here, was restricted to the hours of darkness – although the local commander, Abdullah, vowed to me that he would soon be in full control. As I am quickly to discover, this was no idle boast. In Chak, the Karzai government has in effect given up and handed over to the Taliban. Abdullah, still in charge, even collects taxes. His men issue receipts using stolen government stationery that is headed “Islamic Republic of Afghanistan”; with commendable parsimony they simply cross out the word “Republic” and insert “Emirate”, the emir in question being the Taliban’s spiritual leader, Mullah Omar.
The most astonishing thing about this rebel district – and for Nato leaders meeting in Lisbon this week, a deeply troubling one – is that Chak is not in war-torn Helmand or Kandahar but in Wardak province, a scant 40 miles south-west of Kabul.
Phi Beta Iota: We are reminded by this piece of how the best CIA desk officers knew instantly, the day we announced going to war in Viet-Nam, that we had gotten it wrong, that Ho Chi Minh was a nationalist, and that we would lose. By the time Afghanistan rolled around, intelligence had become both jejeune and unethical (silent in the face of treason), and politics had become even more ideologically psychopathic and corrupt than ever before. James Fegusson has given us a very fine contribution–this is ground truth at its best.
and most especially: