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Reporters on the Job

CLOAK, DAGGER, and PARTY HAT? The Monitor's Scott Baldauf met twice - quietly - with the Taliban chief of intelligence for the region that includes the Afghan city of Jalalabad (this page). The second meeting was Wednesday at an apartment in a working-class neighborhood of Islamabad. They sat facing each other on two beds, barely a foot apart. The spy's first question startled Scott, who had just returned from a weekend visit to his home in Delhi.

"Did your daughter have a good birthday party?" he asked.

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"At first I was spooked that he knew about the party," says Scott, impressed and shaken by the reach of the Taliban spy network. "But then I remembered at our last visit telling him I would be leaving Pakistan to attend my daughter's party."

The purpose of the meeting was intended to arrange a surreptitious trip into Afghanistan. But with the sudden collapse of the Taliban, the spy apologized that Scott's promised tour had fallen through. "In the future, if you need any help from us, let us know. We are sorry not to succeed this time in our job, but everything has fallen in hours." The spy fell silent, and then quickly got up and left.

SAY 'CHEESE' IN AFGHAN: The Monitor's Scott Peterson, who takes many of his own photos, couldn't resist getting his portrait taken in Kabul yesterday. "We were driving around in the morning and spotted an Afghan with a giant blue box camera. We had to stop," he says.

Scott, several colleagues, interpreters, and drivers all crowded together on a side street in the shade.

"Ready?" the photographer asked disappearing behind the camera. "He reached around the wooden box and pulled a plastic cap off the lens. He counted slowly and put the cap back on with great flourish," Scott says.

Under the Taliban's strict interpretation of Islam, photos of the human form were forbidden except for identification cards, and only of men. "Now they're snapping wedding party photos," he says.

- David Clark Scott

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