Ahmed Shah Massoud

Rescue the North

Naubad, Afghanistan—In a wheat field in northern Afghanistan this spring, beneath the Cretaceous convulsions of the Hindu Kush mountains, a village elder named Ajab Khan shared with me the unsentimental math of his region’s farmers. An acre of wheat, Khan said, yields $400. An acre of opium poppies yields $20,000. The people of his village, Naubad, had grown exclusively poppies until 2004, when the government of Hamid Karzai asked them to stop.


If George W. Bush were to discover a cure for cancer, his critics would denounce him for having done it unilaterally, without adequate consultation, with a crude disregard for the sensibilities of others. He pursued his goal obstinately, they would say, without filtering his thoughts through the medical research establishment. And he didn't share his research with competing labs and thus caused resentment among other scientists who didn't have the resources or the bold—perhaps even somewhat reckless-—instincts to pursue the task as he did.


1. "The Mujahedin laid 260 anti-tank mines for Russian tanks. Out of that 180 mines exploded. Now find out how many mines are remaining."    2. "15 Mujahedin attacked 100 Communists from one side. 17 Mujahedin attacked from the other side. Out of 100 Communists, 14 were arrested and 72 were killed. Find out: a) how many Mujahedin were involved in the attack and b) how many infidels fled."    3. "Karim is a Mujahed. He had 5 magazines of AK bullets. Each magazine has 30 bullets. He fired 3 at the infidels and killed 50 infidels.


On the Road

We were stuck in the border zone between Tajikistan and Afghanistan—some 15 journalists from all over the world in a caravan of Russian Lada Nivas and Volgas, Land Cruisers, Mitsubishi jeeps, and minivans. For five hours, since setting out from the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, the caravan had been scattering dust squalls over fields of bursting cotton and parched earth. Down here in the border zone, though, the dust took on a different, unsettling aspect. We had a lot of time to notice because it was 5:10 p.m. and the Russian and Tajik border guards had closed their office at 5:00.