A decade ago, Allawi noted, there had been no journalistic community in Afghanistan. “Within ten years you want to create a community of journalism, a culture of journalism? It’s not easy.” Much that has become common journalistic practice in Afghanistan would be unacceptable in the West. Afghan and Western journalists quote Taliban spokesmen whom they never meet face to face, whom they only know by phone numbers, whose voices and personalities change depending on when they are reached. During his years as a cameraman in Kandahar, Nader had sought to interview Qari Yousuf Ahmadi in person. “He wouldn’t meet me,” Nader said. Indeed, the names of the most frequently quoted Taliban spokesmen are widely believed to refer to groups of spokesmen rather than individuals. Journalists film interviews with people claiming to be Taliban fighters, men with guns, their faces obscured by scarves. “If I see a person covering his face and he comes and says that, ‘Yes, I am the commander of Taliban, I’m the second person after Mullah Omar and I meet with Mr. Karzai,’ it’s not acceptable,” Allawi said. “But it could happen in this country. Believe it or not, that’s it. It’s up to you to believe it or not.” (Journalists are apparently not the only ones prone to such mistakes. Allawi and I spoke a month before a man speaking with NATO and Afghan officials and claiming to be a high-level Taliban negotiator was revealed as a fraud.)
In the end, Allawi seemed almost jolly about his relationship with the Americans. After Nader and Nekzad were released, both men had been summoned to Kabul, and Allawi counseled them. Then he threw a party in their honor, to which he invited Admiral Smith. “We have no problem with ISAF,” Allawi told me. He called the Karzai government “maybe one of the most tolerant governments in the third world with journalists.” Allawi was a realist. Taliban fighters had kidnapped him a year earlier and broken his rib with their rifle butts before letting him go. On other occasions, he had been insulted and interrogated by NATO soldiers. His camera equipment had been confiscated by the Afghan government. “This is the situation in Afghanistan,” Allawi told me. “If you are going to troubled areas, you expect troubles.”
Allawi had told me that because he was clean-shaven and wore Western clothes, he was sometimes mistaken for a communist when he reported in the Afghan countryside. He was also accustomed to being mistaken for a foreign agent. And he found it unremarkable that he and other journalists, as some of the few people who had regular contact with the Taliban, would be seen by international forces as viable sources of intelligence. “I’m aware that all my conversations with anybody is recorded for somebody else. And it’s not something secret in this country,” Allawi told me. “This is an intelligence war, and intelligence war has no limits.”
After three nights in detention, Nader was called out of his cell again. A soldier met him, cheerful and smiling. “I have good news,” he said. “You’re going to be released.”
The soldier beckoned to him: “Come here so I can show you some pictures.” Nader looked at the photos, taken at a copper mine in Logar Province south of Kabul. The soldier explained that the mine was being developed so that Afghanistan could export its minerals. “He said, ‘I’m showing you this because Afghan people always think that wherever there is an American base, they are stealing these things from Afghanistan. But we’re here to build this country, not to steal from you,’ ” Nader told me. And then Nader said something that made me wonder again about NATO’s intentions. He recalled that the American soldier said something like: “This is a picture so that you learn, and give this picture to other people also.” Nader wasn’t exactly being asked to distribute a picture or a video clip on behalf of the coalition. But he was being asked to tell a particular kind of story.