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Haditha Reporter’s T-Giving With Taliban

The reporter who supposedly first broke the Haditha story for the western media was Tim McGirk.

While we are on looking into the backgrounds of the major players involved, it is perhaps interesting to note that two months after 9/11 Mr. McGirk was spending Thanksgiving with the Taliban.

And that he considers them to be nice guys.

From the DNC’s favorite magazine, Time:

Saturday, Nov. 24, 2001

Thanksgiving With the Taliban

TIME correspondent Tim McGirk shares bread, raisins, and thoughts about the afterlife with some Taliban fighters, and finds some common ground

By TIM MCGIRK

With a few colleagues, I spent my Thanksgiving meal squatting on the floor of an Afghan passport office, talking to Taliban fighters about miracles and Judgement Day.

On the Afghan side of the border near the Pakistani town of Chaman, we had pulled into a Taliban base, a dusty courtyard with two broken-down cars. Earlier in the day, a convoy of journalists were stoned and robbed while leaving Spin Boldak, just up the road. Some 200 other journalists had already left for Pakistan. We were waiting for four reporters who had been led off into the Rigestan desert by the Taliban to look at some fuel tankers blown up by U.S. commandos. It didn’t seem like a very good idea to leave our friends behind in Afghanistan.

So there we were, with darkness setting in, surrounded by curious and heavily armed Taliban. One fighter points up into the mauve twilight sky. I think he’s showing me the crescent moon and I nod appreciatively: “Yes, very beautiful.” Impatiently, he gestures over to a range of darkening hills, and then I see it: a B-52 bomber, its vapor trails catching the last rays of light. “American?” he asks me menacingly. “No, French,” I lie.

I try to distract him by offering some raisins, and he backs away, laughing. Our guide Ahmed explains that the Taliban are fasting. It’s Ramadan. On the other side of the world, Americans are waking up to Thanksgiving Day, football and turkey. A Washington Post reporter stranded here with me starts describing with considerable artistry the drool-inducing taste of his mother’s turkey stuffing. We tell him to stop.

The sun’s gone down, and now the starving Taliban can eat. A man named Amanullah beckons us into his office, a mud-walled room with a table, an iron passport stamper, floor mats, a lopsided bed and three murals he has painted of mountains and a Muslim saint’s tomb. He starts eating from a rusty can and offers it around. I offer my bag of raisins. “Look,” he says with a grin, “all we ever eat around here are raisins. Do you have anything else?”

The Post man conjures up some mango juice, and I go out on the road to a bakery selling wheels of sweetbread fresh from a wood-fired oven. The lights go out (electricity is stolen from Chaman a few hundred meters down the road), so we light candles.

There was a genuine Thanksgiving glow about the meal. The bread is good, and more Taliban fighters come in to partake. One of them, a little man with a beard like a troll’s, says he’s Mullah Mohammed Omar’s nephew. But he hasn’t seen his uncle much lately: the Taliban supreme commander has been awfully busy since Sept. 11.

The subject of religion comes up, and the Taliban are curious about us infidels. Amanullah asks what we believe happens after death. He explains his vision: the coffin opens up like a trap door and either you go to hell or you’re escorted up to paradise by beautiful maidens. “That’s fine for men, but what can women expect in paradise?” asks the woman from the Times of London. Amanullah isn’t exactly sure — who is? — but he says, “Everything is equal, for men and women in paradise.” He then reminds us, with solemn pity, that only True Believers of Islam would be allowed into paradise on Judgement Day. That pretty much leaves us out of the picture.

Then we got on to the subject of miracles. Taliban legend has it that the Prophet Mohammed came to Mullah Omar in a 1994 dream and told this simple, half-blind village cleric to rid Afghanistan of the warlords, who were nothing but thieves and debauched murders. In the early days, Afghans thought that angels rode into battle with the Taliban, hovering above their tanks and pick-up trucks. I ask if Mullah Omar has performed any miracles lately. “Sure,” says Amanullah, “he’s still alive, isn’t he? Isn’t that miracle enough, when the mightiest nation on earth is trying to kill him?”

We’re summoned to tea by the local Taliban commander, Mohammed Haqqani. Along with his bodyguards and a Taliban judge, Haqqani is fiddling with a radio, trying to reach the BBC’s Pushtu service. He finds it in time to hear that the Taliban have driven the Northern Alliance out of Maidanshahr, south of Kabul. They all beam and cheer; it reminds me a little of watching the annual Lions football game back home.

The Le Monde correspondent asks what it would take to reach peace in Afghanistan. “We had peace,” Haqqani insists. “The Taliban were on the verge of defeating these bandits, until America helped them out. Now, there are robberies and killings everywhere. The Taliban will have to start all over again.”

Our missing colleagues finally arrive, and I leave thinking that maybe this evening wasn’t very different from the original Thanksgiving: people from two warring cultures sharing a meal together and realizing, briefly, that we’re not so different after all.

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Reporter Tim McGirk in the Mazlak Camp in Afghanistan.

It should also be noted that Tim McGirk is a graduate of Berkeley, class of 1974.

This article was posted by Steve Gilbert on Friday, June 2nd, 2006. Comments are currently closed.

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