Reporters on the Job
GETTING THE INTERVIEWS: For today's special report on Afghan power brokers (page 1), Monitor reporters interviewed several key leaders. Each presented its own challenges. For example, the press secretary for Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan's interim president, assured Scott Baldauf that Mr. Karzai was a big fan of the Monitor and Scott definitely would get to see him.
But actually getting an interview was not easy. "Day after day, we would show up at the gate of the presidential palace, only to be glared at by the Northern Alliance soldiers," says Scott. One day, the Monitor's local reporter, Mashal Lutfullah, asked the gate commander to call up the press secretary to see if he had scheduled the interview for that day. "Why do you want to talk to that [expletive] Pashtun?" said the commander, himself a Tajik. Mashal replied, "This is wrong. Mr. Karzai is a Pashtun, and I am also a Pashtun." The commander apologized with the standard "I-didn't-mean-you" defense.
Scott finally got the interview, but notes that if getting to Karzai is difficult, trying to reach Badsha Khan, a commander in eastern Afghanistan, can be dangerous. "We were driving up to his mud-walled compound in a wide-open dusty plain outside of Gardez, along a narrow dirt road. Suddenly, our driver stopped the car. 'What happened?' I asked. 'Minefield,' said Mashal, as our car backed up to find a safer route. I looked around me. There were none of the usual telltale signs. No red-painted rocks, no barbed wire fences with red-triangle metal warning signs. Mashal pointed to Badsha Khan's wall, where there was a short sentence written in Arabic script. 'It says 'Danger: land mines' in Pashto,' he said. Good news for us, I thought, but what about those Western reporters who were traveling with interpreters who don't speak Pashto, but instead speak the Persian dialect of Dari?"
GUEST OF A WARLORD: While reporting her story about Abdul Rashid Dostum, the Monitor's Ilene Prusher stayed at the Afghan warlord's guesthouse in northern Afghanistan. "As we headed out the door for a two-hour drive back to our hotel in Mazar-e Sharif, I asked if it was safe. 'No!' a press aide exclaimed. 'I wouldn't drive at this time of night if I were you.' Road bandits would enjoy a stack of money and an American passport, and who knows what else, he told us."
And so Ilene and her interpreter settled in for the night. "It amazes me to think that as a reporter I am somehow safer beneath the roof of someone who is responsible for the deaths of thousands than on the road after dark," says Ilene.
David Clark Scott