If you hate America enough, you'll believe just about anything
I was halfway up the track that leads to the salt-mine at Taloqan, described by Marco Polo as producing the finest salt in the world, when an old man driving a donkey, two huge blocks of rock salt tied to its sides, stopped me and started jabbering in Persian. ‘He wants to thank you for getting rid of the Taleban,’ said my interpreter, as the man started shaking my hand. ‘Not at all,’ I said modestly. ‘Don’t mention it.’ ‘He thinks you are American,’ added the interpreter — rather snidely, I thought...
Shortly before I left on a trip to Afghanistan in August 2001, a left-wing don pointed me to an article by Jason Burke in the London Review of Books. ‘Very interesting piece. Apparently the Taleban aren’t that bad.’ It was nothing more than a credulous regurgitation of Pakistani propaganda. The Taleban, it claimed, were a spontaneous law-and-order movement of theology students revolted by the widespread rapes perpetrated by the warlords. This is rubbish. The Taleban were armed and funded by the Pakistani secret service to give Pakistan the control over Afghanistan that they thought was their right. And, despite looking hard, I have never come across any evidence of widespread rape of women in Afghanistan.
I read this article out to a class I took at Kabul University. I thought that they would find it quite funny, but halfway through I realised it wasn’t getting any laughs. I stopped because the women were angry. The few of them who had received any education during the long night of Taleban rule had done so at secret schools. The mother of one had been beaten with electrical flex because a spy from the ministry for the prevention of vice and propagation of virtue had heard her shoes clicking on the pavement.
‘Who is this man?’ she demanded. I said that he was the Observer’s chief reporter. ‘How can he say such things?’ ‘Because he hates America,’ I said. ‘He also says that all the Taleban did was to make law out of what had always been the case in rural areas.’ There was uproar. Even the men joined in. They thought that this was really impertinent and offensive. ‘He also says,’ I went on, ‘that there is no need to ban television because there aren’t any.’ ‘Who does he think we are. Of course we’ve got television.’ And that’s true. I’ve watched television all over the country, even in a Khirgiz yurt in the High Pamirs.