Stan Atkinson: Of all my foreign assignments, the reports from Afghanistan are the ones people seem to remember best, and the two they ask most about. And I'll admit, it is hard to forget how I looked.
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The freedom fighters - the Mujahadin - were our protectors.|
Stan Atkinson / 1982, 1985: "Night is coming to an Afghan freedom fighters base camp just inside Afghanistan. We've driven five hours south and west from Pesour, the big Pakistan border city. This is a required uniform to get here on two counts: to get through the tribal areas - which are prohibited to foreigners - and to get past the Pakistani police - who were ordered not to allow any foreign journalists inside Afghanistan."
Our staging area for the trips was Peshwar, a Casablanca-type city in Pakistan, over-run with refugees and crawling with KGB spies and informers. We stayed in safe houses before leaving, knowing we might be spotted if we left from a hotel.
But once inside Afghanistan, the freedom fighters - the Mujahadin - were our protectors. and I believe they would have given their lives to protect us.
Still, there were some close calls. Once, we were chased into a cave by a Soviet helicopter gunship. It flew around us and low, trying to get a shot at us.
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To a westerner accustomed to a life shaded in gray and bounded by compromise, the Afghan ideology was impressive.|
Another time, we hid in the back of a mud teahouse as enemy informers searched in vain, finally giving up.
Going into Afghanistan was like stepping back into time, and not just because of the Mujahadin's dress and appearance. It was more a matter of faith.
Consider this, in the Afghan language there is no word for compromise. To them, everything is either black or white, right or wrong. You were either a follower of Islam, loyal to the cause and a cherished friend for life, or you were a traitor to Allah and country, a sworn enemy.
And punishment for such people was the ultimate. But it would begin with taunting and humiliation and it ended with death, which - fortunately in this case - we did not have to witness.
It was this kind of "blind faith" that kept the Mujahidin going for years. Fighting the Soviets with very little western support, getting down on their knees to pray to Allah five times a day. Calling on Allah to guide their firepower and lining up gravesite markers to face Allah in a final tribute.
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Going into Afghanistan was like stepping back into time, and not just because of the Mujahadin's dress and appearance. It was more a matter of faith.|
To a westerner accustomed to a life shaded in gray and bounded by compromise, the Afghan ideology was impressive. So impressive, that an American doctor from Texas that we followed on our 1985 trip made this entry into his journal:
Dr. Preston Darby / International Medical Corps: "These are the most incredible people I've ever known. It's an incredible country. I just can't say enough about it. It's the experience of my lifetime to be here. If I didn't have a wife and family, I would stay here forever."
You might have noticed how dark my beard was when I was in disguise. When I grew the beard, it was salt and pepper. But the Afghans told me that a young-looking face with a gray beard was a dead giveaway that you were a westerner. That's because life in Afghanistan was so hard that the life expectancy rate there was only about 40-years-old at the time. So we doctored my beard with mascara and made it through all the checkpoints.