Nepali Times
Here And There
War diary


Quetta, Pakistan - Day one of the \'war'. In the dead of night, death rains from the sky. American military technology, some of it lent to the British, pours down on one of the world's poorest countries. That such a land apparently harboured terror, evil, violence aimed outward is no surprise. It is a truism of human history that the worst-off places often breed nastiness.

Yet there was a hope-futile, fleeting-that for once, America would not be tempted to use its high tech advantage, that ancient skills of diplomacy and politics might achieve the aims of a bereaved and rightfully angry people. Afghan history is littered with deals made and deals broken, a canvas painted in blood, treachery and the forgotten lives of the innocent. The deal-making and breaking might have taken time, but it might also have worked. The Taliban toppled, at least some of the men accused of the horrors of 11 September caught, brought to book, deprived of safe havens where they can repeat their actions of alluring menace.

But no. The temptation to press buttons, to soar on silver wings above a blasted landscape, and blast it some more-this triumphed in the early days of the war. Why not? Why shouldn't high-tech, low casualty options be pursued to the utmost? Countless "experts" are trotted out to tell us those answers. I can't help wonder about the cheques from arms manufacturers protruding from back pockets, or at least from the bulging coffers of the think tanks they represent. No matter. These are side issues. Afghans are fleeing in fear out there, taking to battered roads between minefields laid a generation ago, heading for countries that don't want them. Of course, that's only the able bodied, the men and young women who can trudge the distance. Behind them, they leave the sickly, the starving, the widows-Afghanistan has more per capita than most-and those the Taliban retain as human fodder for their defence strategy.

Were there no other choices? Did the magnificent and already decimated land of Afghanistan really deserve a high altitude pounding? Will it work? All that's certain is that we're heading into a time of anxiety, fear and uncertainty.

Later the same day. I awake to a whiff of tear gas. No, more than a whiff, my eyes are streaming in my hotel bedroom. Outside, there's shouting, gunfire and panic. My fellow foreign journalists, trapped here in the luxurious Serena Hotel, wonder what's going on and assume the worst. Rumours fly. The mad mullahs are coming to get us. There are fatwas calling for Americans-and all foreigners-to be killed on sight. These can't be confirmed but the fear is understandable. So far, the anger and menace of the mob is being vented on property. Cars are smashed, shops and cinemas burnt down. Paksitan's silent majority-who support neither the airstrikes nor Osama bin Laden-take the brunt of the extremists' wrath. Of course, this was to be expected. A fanatical fringe, bred by the Paksitani elite, godfathered by the same countries now leading the "coalition against terror" has long plagued this country. But the authorities, as usual, are caught flat-footed when anger becomes violence, and honest folk suffer. It is ever thus, and not just in Pakistan.

Early Wednesday morning. The strikes continue. Now the Americans announce "air superiority over Afghanistan." A retired senior general on CNN litters his analysis with the word "we". The presenter agrees, he is onside, journalistic credibility jettisoned in what his network, mysteriously, has now labelled a "strike against terror". What happened to the war? If it's good enough for Bush, Powell and Rumsfeld, why not CNN? A picture has been subtly painted this week. A country that many of us know to be already in ruins, with a vicious elite of tribal fanatics imposed by Pakistan, is being painted as a terrorist-supporting super-state with a medium technology air defence system. This justifies the expenditure of hundreds of millions of taxpayers dollars from across the West to bomb it into oblivion. I seen an end. I see a means.

From Kabul, news of civilian casualties. Four UN mine clearance workers will no longer do their saintly work, making their country's roads, fields and play areas safe for citizens. They've been blasted to bits by a Cruise missile. Friendly fire. Collateral damage. An unfortuate consequence of war. The eggs that get broken to make the omelette. I can't help but wonder whether we will ever know about the other ordinary Afghans dying in these attacks. What international organisation will speak up for them?

Tony Blair is promising now, on whose behalf I wonder, that Afghanistan will no longer be ignored when it's not being bombed, that it will be rebuilt and aided into development and long term peace. I hope, no I pray, that he keeps a promise broken so often in the past.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)