The following is an account my friend sent me, at my request. This friend has requested anonymity, because of the nature of the incident, and I am respecting that. What I find remarkable here is that Panjshir is meant to be one of the safest and most welcoming provinces for travelers, right up there with Bamiyan, yet it apparently has its own issues with illegal checkpoints, road bandits, and warlords.
This is an abridged account of how my first detention at gunpoint –by
local thugs/DIAG rejects in, of all provinces of Afghanistan,
Panjshir– last weekend.
Some development worker and photojournalist friends and I were taking
photos deep in the Panjshir valley when a group of men in camo jackets
appeared out of nowhere and began screaming at my friend Afghan friend
M and I. What followed was chaotic.
My two foreign friends and I got away, but I then doubled back for M,
who had been grabbed by the bellowing commander. A muscular,
middle-aged man with a long beard, the commander shook M by the
shoulders and raised his hand aggressively.
Not knowing what else to do, I intervened –physically– putting my
arm between M and the commander, and tried to pull the two apart. The
commander pushed me off and shrieked in indignation. A deputy handed
him his rifle. M and I were then forced up a dirt hill. Our friends
watched from the road on the other side of the valley as we
disappeared behind a derelict stone building that had housed Tajik
IDPs during the Afghan civil war.
Behind the building, M and I were told to sit on some rocks. The
commander berated us with nonsensical questions and accusations. He
told us we were intruding on Jamiat territory. He accused M of spying,
accused me of spying, ranted about religion, and segued into bashing
the Karzai government.
The commander and his deputies glared at me with visceral disgust
throughout, and demanded that M explain who I was and what I was
doing wandering Panjshir. The truth –that I was a Kabul-based aid
worker out for some fresh air and cliche photos with rusted tanks–
was scoffed at.
M tried to calm the obviously unstable commander with a soothing tone
and lots of “commandhan jan, commandhan jan, lotfan…” When that
didn’t work, M spun a long and fantastic tale about his father’s
exploits in the jihad against the Russians and the Soviet-backed
regime in Kabul.
That worked. The commander agreed to release us. M and I were marched
to a rickety bridge over the fast-flowing Panj River. Into the
commander’s hand, M slipped cash, and we were freed. We arrived back
at our car shaken and sped off as fast as possible along the winding
The future looks dark.