Fall Of Kabul: A Lone Journalist's First-Hand Reportage Amid Taliban Takeover

The Fall of Kabul - Despatches from Chaos is a first-hand reportage of a lone journalist during the catastrophic ten days that saw NATO troops withdrawing from Afghanistan, and Kabul finally falling to the Taliban.

Nayanima Basu
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The fall of kabul book excerpt
The Fall of Kabul - Despatches from Chaos is a first-hand reportage of a lone journalist during the catastrophic ten days that saw NATO troops withdrawing from Afghanistan, and Kabul finally falling to the Taliban. 

An Excerpt

It was not easy for me to interview important figures in Afghanistan, most of whom would promise to speak to me but either refuse later or simply turn me down, seeing that I was from India and did not have deep pockets, unlike the Western journalists. Some had also questioned my integrity and work experience.
I gave Baheer my old phone so he could speak into it, translating his grandfather’s answers for me, which he did diligently. But he did not have to translate my questions, posed in English, to Hekmatyar, who was well versed in the language. Between six and eight of Hekmatyar’s men entered the room and the camera and lights were switched on. I thought, ‘This is it’ – the moment I had been waiting for for such a long time.
I began, ‘You’ve been Afghanistan’s prime minister, then you fought the 2019 elections hoping to become the President. But today it seems history has come a full circle in Afghanistan . . . Your thoughts?’ Hekmatyar replied, ‘The US never invested in or supported the popular figures [who fought the Taliban locally]. The US made a mistake within Afghanistan in that they invested in people who were not popular locally. The major reason behind the collapse of the government, the defeat of the NATO allies is investment in unpopular figures [like Ghani]. Their [NATO] coming to Afghanistan was a blunder and then the way they went out was a blunder, and now we have seen them [Taliban] come back again, which just goes to prove the point that their withdrawal was a mistake to begin with.’
According to Hekmatyar, it was inevitable that the Taliban would grow more powerful. He said the ‘only way forward would be to hold elections’, wherein an ‘impartial transitional government’ should be formed. Hekmatyar, who had contested the 2019 presidential election, called it ‘sham’ and ‘fraudulent’. In that election, Ashraf Ghani had been elected the President of Afghanistan.
He said the very fact that the Taliban was able to take over province after province with such immense speed showed the failure of the Ghani administration. And all this while the insurgents were marching into the Afghan capital.

Sitting inside that office, none of us was aware of what was going on at that very moment outside the walls of the Daftar-e-Markazi itself.
Just as the interaction was going deeper and the stiff atmosphere in the room was easing a bit, I realised that some commotion was taking place behind the camera and everyone was murmuring in tense voices. I was signalled to stop the interview and close it ASAP! Sensing the tension, I did exactly that.
However, many of my questions remained unanswered. I was keen to ask Hekmatyar about his long periods of interaction with a former CIA chief – Milt Bearden – who had manned the agency’s Islamabad station in 1987. Bearden cultured Hekmatyar to a great extent, giving him hundreds of millions of US dollars in aid, which came out of the pockets of American taxpayers. And yet Hekmatyar had refused to visit New York to meet the ‘infidel’ Ronald Reagan, the US President at the time. Bearden and his team eventually came under scrutiny for supporting Hekmatyar and other Afghan leaders who were working in close collaboration with Pakistan’s ISI. During one of their interactions, Hekmatyar, who spoke excellent English, had told Bearden that he knew the CIA was planning to kill him. Bearden asked him, ‘Why would I want to kill you?’ Hekmatyar said, ‘The US can no longer feel safe with me alive.’ Later, Bearden, when asked about this statement by Hekmatyar in an interview, said, ‘I think the engineer flatters himself.’
Hekmatyar, an engineer by qualification, served as Afghanistan’s prime minister for two brief terms before the Taliban takeover in 1996. In 1975, he founded the Hezb-e-Islami Party, considered to be one of Afghanistan’s powerful jihadi groups, to fight the Soviets, and that was why he was the CIA’s favourite. Later, his group split and he renamed his faction Hezb- e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG). Post 9/11, Hekmatyar declared jihad against the US and began his support of the Taliban. In February 2003, the US listed him as a ‘Specially Designated Terrorist’ and his HIG as a ‘Group of Concern.’
The excerpt is extracted from the book The Fall of Kabul - Despatches from Chaos, authored by Nayanima Basu and published by Bloomsbury.
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