Peshawar, Pakistan, Feb. 1, 2002

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Happy birthday to you, Kristian!

A 30-year-old journalist enjoying rural life in Pakistan wearing a traditional shelwarkevish. Photo: Muhammad Amjad Baig.
A 30-year-old journalist enjoying rural life in Pakistan wearing a traditional shelwarkevish in the village of Rasul, two hours south of the Pakistani capital Islamabad. Photo: Muhammad Amjad Baig
For the last couple of weeks I've been practicing to say that I'm 30 years old. I cannot say I like it, but tomorrow, Feb. 2 is the big day. Since few of you will know my birthday, I take the liberty of doing it like this. I expect that my mailbox will be clogged with congratulations :-)

At the moment I'm in Peshawar, Pakistan, a border city to Afghanistan. At some time I'd like to move into Afghanistan, but I'm in no hurry. The war is virtually over, and there are a lot of things to write about in Pakistan as well.

As a Norwegian, there are some advantages for me in Pakistan at the moment. You probably heard about the kidnaping of the American Wall Street Journal reporter Danny Pearl. Now, the kidnapers warn all American journalists to leave the country or be targeted. Hopefully that opens up some doors for me. Norway is a small country with few enemies, and hopefully they would not be so eager to target me.

It would be interesting to write about the growing of opium puppies in Afghanistan. After the fall of the Taliban regime, the drug trade has apparently mushroomed because the new government doesn't control the local war lords. However, the opium puppies does not blossom before early April. I have time.

Muhammad Dawood, 5, from the Afghan city of Herat is a refugee at the Iranian-Afghanistan border. He had nothing when he came to the refugee camp Mile 46, and he made his car with a cardboard box.
Muhammad Dawood, 5, from the Afghan city of Herat is a refugee at the Iranian-Afghanistan border. He had nothing when he came to the refugee camp Mile 46, and he made his car with a cardboard box.

However, I already entered Afghanistan from the Iranian side of the border to see a refugee camp for internal Afghan refugees. The Mile 46 Camp in southwestern Afghanistan was a special experience. I saw how Afghans have to live in tents through the winter. Inhabitants suffer from infections of their digestive systems, ulcers, worms, and exhaustion. Hygiene is poor. Diarrhea is rampant. The situation is especially bad for the women and children.

Hopefully, they will start their return to their homes in the spring, but even if they want to return to their homes, they have little or nothing to return to. Many of the Afghans I met complained that the help was slow, and they blamed the Americans for bombing their homes and doing too little for the reconstruction of the country.

Back in Pakistan I enjoy the life here, despite a few difficulties. I've had a couple of cases of diarrhea, but I've been fighting it off. One of the most special experiences was to live in the village of Rasul two hours south of the Pakistani capital Islamabad. One of my Pakistani friends who lives in Norway invited me to stay with his family when I came to Pakistan.


Some of the Afghans have brought their livestocks. Seyed Rahaman Hashemi, 50, has brought his only goat, and he feeds it with whatever garbage he finds in the camp.
Some of the Afghans have brought their livestocks. Seyed Rahaman Hashemi, 50, has brought his only goat, and he feeds it with whatever garbage he finds in the camp.

I was embarrassed to experience the hospitality in Rasul. My family took care of me from morning to evening, and they left their jobs to take care of me. I feel very privileged that I got to see the rural countryside of Pakistan. I remember the sound of waking up to the sound of noisy geese, running away from aggressive donkeys or attending a cockfight.

My friends in Rasul showed me a lot, but there is one thing I wish I could see more of. They were very careful to keep their women away from me. Pakistan is a very patriarchal society, and they protect their women very well. I hope I can get a greater understanding what life is like for the women in Pakistan.

As a freelance journalist I don't enjoy the big budgets available to the big news organizations like the CNN. However, living on a low budget also has many advantages. I think I get closer to ordinary people than most my colleagues who live in fancy hotels. They would never share a five-cent minivan crammed with a lot of bearded men and an occasional woman.

Sugar production in the village of Rasul with a Norwegian journalist learning the trade. Photo:Muhammad Amjad Baig.
Sugar production in the village of Rasul with a Norwegian journalist learning the trade. Photo:Muhammad Amjad Baig.

I know this is starting to get to be a bit long, but I'd also like to share some of my views on the international politics in the region. If you are not interested in these topics, you can stop reading here. However, international politics is something I'm passionately interested in.

The American campaign in Afghanistan could be understandable if you accept the condition that the al Qaeda network is responsible for the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. I think there has been a lot of evidence for that position, but that is not the view of the vast majority of Pakistanis I've talked to.

The most common opinion I've experienced, is that the attack was a conspiracy engineered by Israel and America itself. This would be an argument for cracking down on Muslims worldwide. When people argue like that, I answer that America is not for or against Islam. They are first of all for what they view as the American national interests. In the Balkans they came to the rescue of Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo.

A Pashtun boy tries to enjoy the conditions in the Mile 46 Camp set up for internal Afghan refugees in Southwestern Afghanistan. Toys are scarce, and the kids have to manage as best as they can.
A Pashtun boy tries to enjoy the conditions in the Mile 46 Camp set up for internal Afghan refugees in Southwestern Afghanistan. Toys are scarce, and the kids have to manage as best as they can.

The main argument for the Jewish conspiracy is that many Jews were allegedly alerted about the attacks before they happened, and they could escape before the planes hit the buildings. My response that 60,000 people used to work in WTC. Under 3,000 people died. Given the large Jewish population in New York, it is very likely that many Jews were able to "escape" the attack.

While not buying into these conspiracy theories, I wonder if this is an indication that the Americans are winning the war but losing the peace. What I have experienced in Pakistan, American foreign politics are not very popular in the region. Money talks.

Listening to George Bush' State of the Union Address gives more fuel to these thoughts. In his speech he singled out Iran, Iraq and North-Korea as an axis of evil, using terminology from the second world war. The problem with this analogy, however, is that there is no alliance between Iran, Iraq and North-Korea. Iran and Iraq are bitter enemies.

Internal refugees has come from all over Afghanistan to the Mile 46 Camp. This family are Uzbek Afghanis.
Internal refugees has come from all over Afghanistan to the Mile 46 Camp. This family are Uzbek Afghanis.

I spent three weeks in Iran, and what I saw was many open-minded people who does not like their government. This war-talk from the American president is not helpful at all. While there are some indications that Iran seeks to destabilize the situation in Afghanistan and that the former president has threatened to drop a nuke on Israel, the war-talk does not make sense.

Instead of openly threatening Iran, diplomatic channels should be used. Iran is important for the regional stability, and you need to team up with the Iranian moderates. All this war rhetoric only alienate the Iranian forces America wants to cooperate with. The danger is that they run right back in the arms of the conservative priesthood.

Many of you are Americans, and I love Americans. However, after the 911 attack, the American nationalism scares me. When dealing with al Qaeda and Taliban suspects the motto seems to be: "They are terrorists, and thus they have no rights."

Mile 46 is located in the middle of nothing, and desert surrounds the camp at all sides.
Mile 46 is located in the middle of nothing, and desert surrounds the camp at all sides.

What worries me are all the warmongers in America. I'm a Christian myself, but I'm saddened when I hear American Christians say that the only language the terrorists understand is force. Of course, force is needed in some cases, but that does not justify bypassing legal procedures.

The treatment of the detainees at the Guantanamo Bay is not right. The proposed military tribunals does not serve American interests, and it is worrying that the detainees are deprived basic legal rights, such as the right of appeal and a jury. Americans have fought for these rights since 1776, and it is sad that this does not apply to America's enemies as well.

American has a justice system perfectly able to handle the cases, either as prisoners of war or as ordinary criminals. Of course, the demands for evidence are tougher, but at least America would give the same rights to their enemies they have fought for themselves. Otherwise America will lose the peace, even if they can win many wars.

Lastly, I'd like to share a sobering thought from Judge Richard Goldstone, an international human rights expert and the first prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. He was interviewed by the British newspaper The Guardian:

"A result could be other countries in the future treating United States citizens in this way. Imagine how the United States would feel if their troops were picked up in Afghanistan and flown for trial to Iran before some secret commission, facing a death sentence."

Sincerely

--
Kristian Kahrs
Journalist with international experience from conflict areas
At the moment working in Iran, Afghanistan or Pakistan
Homepage: http://home.no.net/kkahrs
Norwegian mobile: +47 93 00 25 22

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