30 August 2005

Photo Journal: With Manmohan Singh in Kabul

I was in Kabul for a day, as part of the 'embedded' media accompanying Manmohan Singh on an official visit, the first by an Indian Prime Minister since 1976. Here are some random shots, taken with my camera phone, at the inaugural function of the Habibia high school, destroyed by the mujahideen in the 1990s and now fully renovated by the Indian government.

I visited the empty, bombed out school building in March 2001 and the contrast couldn't be greater. Everything is now bright and cheerful and the school is full of girls and boys.
Gun-toting guards keep watch over President Hamid Karzai and Manmohan Singh
(Photos: Siddharth Varadarajan, Kabul, August 28, 2005)

On the top is a view of the west wing of the school, as I saw it in March 2001. And at the bottom, a view of the renovated east wing, as it is today. The green patch on the foothills behind is Bagh-e-Babar, the garden complex where the first Mughal emperor lies entombed.

Afghan children waiting for the VVIPs to arrive

You see two guards in the picture but they were at least two dozen heavily armed men, including American supervisors from DynCorp, providing security cover for Karzai and Manmohan. The Indian security contingent, however, was not impressed with the American penchant for overkill.

The approach to Darulaman, and the Palace itself, as I photographed it in March 2001. Nothing has changed since then, not even the rusting carcass of an APV in the foreground. I still remember how I foolishly wandered in to that area looking for an interesting angle to shoot the palace. My 'minder' had gone to take a leak and when he sawme, he started screaming, "Don't move, don't move, that place is full of mines!".

The Darulaman Palace housed the Defence Ministry in the Najibullah days and became the centre for intra-mujahideen fighting when that regime collapsed. Even today, there is a lot of unexploded ordnance lying around. The only difference is that someone from Karzai's set-up, or ISAF, has put up helpful signs warning about the UXOs.

The Bagh-e-Babar had also seen heavy fighting and when the SPG commandos ran their metal detectors around as part of the sanitisation drill the day before Manmohan was to visit, they began beeping like crazy. One trench was dug, and then another, and rocket shells, bullet casings, and other metallic stuff just kept coming out.


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bhupinder singh said...

I wonder how the ostensibly proud Afgans react to being treated as little more than a crony American state. Any observations on the Afgans' reactions to the American presence, specially an Afgan President guarded by (what I believe are) American mercenaries?