P.J. O'Rourke discusses his recent trip to Afghanistan, highlighting the time he spent with journalists from RFE/RL's Radio Azadi - Afghanistan's most popular media outlet. An excerpt of the article is printed below. Read the full version here
The 72-Hour Expert
P.J. O'Rourke | The Weekly StandardAugust 23, 2010
In Kabul I was met at the airport by M. Amin Mudaqiq, bureau chief for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Afghan branch, Radio Azadi. “Our office is just down the main road,” he said, “but since it’s early in the morning we’ll take the back way, because of the Suicides.” That last word, I noticed, was pronounced as a proper noun, the way we would say “Beatles” slightly differently than “beetles.” And, in a sense, suicide bombers do aspire to be the rock stars of the Afghan insurgency (average career span being about the same in both professions).
“The Suicides usually attack early in the morning,” Amin said. “It’s a hot country and the explosive vests are thick and heavy.”
I’d never thought about suicide bombing in terms of comfort. Here’s some guy who’s decided to blow himself gloriously to bits and he’s pounding the pavement all dressed up in the blazing sun, sweat running down his face, thinking, “Gosh this thing itches, I’m pooped, let’s call it off.”
“It’s the same with car bombs,” Amin said. “You don’t want to be driving around the whole day with police everywhere and maybe get a ticket.”
Imagine the indignity of winding up in traffic court instead of the terrorist equivalent of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Kabul is a walled city, which sounds romantic except the walls are pre-cast reinforced concrete blast barriers, 10 feet tall and 15 feet long and moved into place with cranes. The walls are topped with sandbags and the sandbags are topped with guard posts from which gun barrels protrude.
Amin pointed out the sights. “There’s U.N. headquarters.” All I could see was blast barriers, sandbags and gun barrels. “There’s the German embassy”—barriers, bags, and barrels. “There’s the embassy of China”—barriers, bags, and barrels. I spotted a rough-hewn stone fort on a hilltop, looking more the way ancient Kabul should look. “Oh, 19th-century British,” Amin said.
Security was all over the place, in various senses of the phrase. I have never seen so many types and kinds of soldiers, policemen, and private security guards or such a welter of uniforms, each in a different pattern of camouflage every one of which stuck out like a toreador’s suit of lights against the white blast walls. Some of this security was on alert, some was asleep, some was spit-and-polish, some had its shoes untied and some, rather unaccountably, was walking around without weapons.