Paperback: 240 pages

Publisher: Eye Books (2008)

ISBN: 9781785630248

Good Morning Afghanistan

Waseem Mahmood

£9.99

After the fall of the Taliban came a radio station with a mission...

It is a time of chaos. Afghanistan has just witnessed the fall of the oppressive Taliban. Warlords battle each other for supremacy, while the powerless, the dispossessed, the hungry and the desperate struggle to survive.

In these days of bleakness, suffering and want, a glimmer of hope emerges – in the form of a spirited little breakfast-time radio programme, Good Morning Afghanistan.

Waseem Mahmood tells how he and an intrepid band of media warriors helped a broken nation find a voice through the radio. Over the airwaves a land ravaged by decades of war starts to fight with words instead of weapons.

Extracts

The Commander looked every inch the international statesman that he had grudgingly been forced into becoming. Even dressed in well-worn battle fatigues and standing in a mud hut in the middle of a small village in the inhospitable mountainous North of Afghanistan, he exuded the unmistakeable aura of a born leader. Massoud Ahmad Shah was the charismatic chief of the Northern Alliance, likened by many in the West to a latter-day Che Guevara. His presence and stature alone demanded respect. By any standards he was a good-looking man, with sharp features, and he spoke eloquently. His face, both resolute and yet somehow dreamy at the same time, represented the dichotomy that had begun to epitomise Massoud. Journalists who interviewed him found it impossible not to be captivated by the ‘Massoud charm’ when he spoke, even though they did not understand a word of what he said.

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Extracts

The Commander looked every inch the international statesman that he had grudgingly been forced into becoming. Even dressed in well-worn battle fatigues and standing in a mud hut in the middle of a small village in the inhospitable mountainous North of Afghanistan, he exuded the unmistakeable aura of a born leader. Massoud Ahmad Shah was the charismatic chief of the Northern Alliance, likened by many in the West to a latter-day Che Guevara. His presence and stature alone demanded respect. By any standards he was a good-looking man, with sharp features, and he spoke eloquently. His face, both resolute and yet somehow dreamy at the same time, represented the dichotomy that had begun to epitomise Massoud. Journalists who interviewed him found it impossible not to be captivated by the ‘Massoud charm’ when he spoke, even though they did not understand a word of what he said.

The story of how the son of a Police Commander from Jangalak in the Panjsher Valley had forged an almost unbeatable army from a small band of fugitives living on wild mulberries was already the stuff of legends. The heavy losses that his crudely equipped troops, armed with just ten Kalashnikov AK47 machine guns and two rocket launchers, had inflicted on the invincible Red Army had earned him a standing as one of the greatest guerrilla commanders ever.

But now, after two decades of almost continuous conflict, the Commander was showing signs of fatigue. He was feeling less the sly, belligerent predator and more and more the cornered prey. His once sharp brown eyes looked weary, and strands of grey now speckled his thick black hair. This man who went to college to become an architect and create beautiful buildings had inadvertently ended up as his country’s last hope of salvation, and the heavy burden was now starting to show.

Standing at the window crudely hewn in the mud brick wall, Massoud looked out at the nomadic village that stretched down into the rocky gorge below his hut. The heavy hemp cloth hastily pressed into service as a curtain flapped in the light breeze. The village, Khawaja Bahauddin, looked like the rest of Afghanistan: downtrodden and soiled, beaten by almost two decades of successive conflicts into submissive oblivion. The dilapidated buildings resembled rotting teeth in the receding gums of streets littered with war debris. Each wall left standing in the village was blemished with pockmarks representing virtually every calibre of ammunition known to man. Windows barely hanging from frames clattered in the wind. Ceilings were propped up on floors and pools of undeterminable slime covered the ground. The roads were strewn with the paraphernalia of war; rotting Russian tanks sat outside the perimeter of the village, soldiers patrolled the streets in a concoction of cannibalised vehicles with an equally cannibalised arsenal of weapons, Kalashnikovs and RPGs cradled in their arms, young faces smiling nervously. Hastily-constructed gun ramparts housing field artillery and anti-aircraft munitions haphazardly dotted the village. And everything was coated in a thin layer of brown dirt.

Down by the riverbank several young fighters sat cleaning their rifles, while others nearby were loading up an abandoned Soviet truck with crates of ammunition. All were wearing snow parkas with blankets thrown over their shoulders, some had old Soviet army pants, and several were without shoes. Above them vapour trails of Taliban MiG jets criss-crossed the clear blue skies. In the distance, the dull thuds of artillery exchanges provided a stark reminder that Afghanistan’s problems were far from over, for fighting had once again enveloped Afghanistan and with it had come all the ingredients of Afghan warfare: brutality, greed, starvation, and poverty. To Afghans, this was nothing new; the cycle of invasion, war, bribery, liberation and subjugation had been a part of Afghan history for centuries – only the cast of players kept changing. The Greeks, the Romans, Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, the Moguls – all at one time or another had laid waste vast areas of Afghanistan, killing countless people in the process.

Khawaja Bahauddin was a strange place, by any stretch of the imagination. For almost a year now it had been the unlikely capital of Afghanistan. As they had settled in for the long haul, Massoud’s Mujahideen had begun to commandeer the ramshackle huts in the village and to rename them – Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Foreign affairs, each with its own Minister, accompanying bureaucracy and assorted hangers-on. Villagers who had been simple farmers until a year ago had now become ‘government officials’, full of self-importance and an assumed air of arrogance that they felt a necessary prerequisite for the positions they now held.

Some of the buildings supported satellite dishes pointing up somewhat expectantly at the western skies hoping perhaps to catch some good news. There wasn’t any, and more often than not neither was there any electricity.

With the Taliban regime in Kabul not officially recognised by the rest of the world, Massoud and his rag-tag entourage had become, in the eyes of the West, the legitimate government of Afghanistan. Thus the village attracted various foreign diplomats and dignitaries intent on meeting with the ‘Afghan Government’.

Massoud closed his eyes and began to drink in the hot wind. ‘The Shamal, Khalili. The winds of freedom begin to blow. I wonder, will they bring peace to our land this year?’

‘If Allah wills it then it will be so, Commander.’

Massoud Khalili was the Commander’s most trusted and loyal friend. Having known each other from childhood, they had fought side by side and thus had that rare bond that could only have been forged on the battlefield. Like Massoud, Khalili was in his forties, smart, cheerful, and ready-witted. Both sported beards, not unruly like the Taliban dictated, but stylishly trimmed. Khalili sat on the gaily-coloured sofa, his green and brown fatigues clashing with the multicoloured soft furnishings.

Both had arrived back in Khawaja Bahauddin by helicopter the previous evening. Massoud had uncharacteristically summoned Khalili, the Northern Alliance’s Ambassador to India, back to Afghanistan and had flown across the border into friendly Tajikistan to receive his old comrade.

‘Just listen to the wind, Khalili. Trust me, God has sent the Shamal early this year to sweep our land clean...’

Khalili nodded pensively. Of the two he was the pragmatist, and this, when combined with Massoud’s philosophical outlook and growing political savoir-faire, made them a formidable team.

‘This is a sign, my friend. I see a new dawn for our country. No more divisions.’ Massoud continued looking out over the valley, surveying the frantic military activity taking place outside. ‘I see a future where we will all be Afghans first – not Tajiks, Pashtoons, Sunnis, Shias,.’ He turned to face Khalili. ‘What we have started will end only in one way – the destruction of the Taliban – and we will do that with or without the West. It may take us a month or it may take a year, even longer. But ultimately, mark my words, we shall prevail.’

What had set Massoud apart from the other Mujahideen leaders and proved much more deadly than the limited archaic firepower available to him was his use of revolutionary tactics which he unashamedly borrowed from successful twentieth-century people’s uprisings: the ideas of Mao, Tito, Lenin, Castro and Ho Chi Minh formed the cornerstone of his strategy. And the intellectual

arsenal had proved to be deadly. Massoud had carefully adapted predominately Communist tactics and ideas that would appeal to the rigid Islamic-based Afghan mindset to rally the rural peasants to revolt. So successful was he, that in less than two decades he had played a major role in the ousting of both the Afghan dictator, Muhammad Daoud, as well as the powerful Red Army of the Soviet Union. And now he had set his sights set on ridding his country of the biggest scourge of all, the Taliban.

quotes

‘Good Morning Afghanistan was an important start in bringing fast and uncensored information to the war-stricken people of Afghanistan. The radio, alongside other media, has served the realisation of freedom of speech and democracy for our country’

President Hamid Karzai

‘A magnificent book. To read it is to be transported to Kabul and to share the dreams of the Afghans’

Dr Rehan ul-Haq

‘A fast-paced mix of humour and heartbreak. The reader is assaulted with the sights, sounds and above all the smells of downtown Kabul in the months that followed the US invasion’

Andy Home

reviews

‘Vividly describes how it feels to be thrown in at the deep end’

The Economist

‘Perfect for anyone who will be entertained by the wilder shores of business’

Financial Times

‘This is a story of the struggle and cruelty that afflicts the ordinary people of this land, but the ideals of hope and humankind’s ceaseless quest for freedom shine through in this brilliant work’

San Francisco Book Review

‘A magnificent book. Freedom comes in many forms – the most powerful is self-expression and by means of Good Morning Afghanistan, countless Afghan women and children teach one another how to be free’

Sacramento Book Review

extras

Waseem talks to the BBC‘s Midlands Today on the publication of Good Morning Afghanistan and again following his OBE award.

Waseem talks about his travel experiences on the Tripping Up podcast.

Waseem brought together the voices of many well known Pakistani singers and vocalists to record Yeh Hum Naheen, the anti-terrorism song that topped the charts in Pakistan.

ABOUT

Waseem Mahmood

Raised in Birmingham, Waseem Mahmood is an award-winning broadcaster who began his career at the BBC, producing for both television and radio. He left to set up TV Asia, the first satellite subscription service for the British Asian community, where he was director of programmes. It later became Zee TV.

He then joined the Baltic Media Centre, which developed public service broadcasting in the post-communist Baltic states and in the Balkans. Waseem pioneered similar work in Muslim countries, beginning in Afghanistan in 2002, when he helped set up a radio station in Kabul after the overthrow of the Taliban.

He went on to develop a variety of media projects in Nigeria and Pakistan aimed at countering violent extremism. In 2008, he ran a major multimedia campaign which resulted in more than 60 million Pakistanis signing a petition condemning terrorism.

Waseem was awarded the OBE in 2005 for services to the reconstruction of media in post-war countries.


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