• Which Hat is He Wearing? Staff writer Scott Baldauf says that reporting today's story about how the opium trade is corrupting the Afghan government (page 1) proved to be more difficult than most. "I had to interview three times as many people as usual for this story. Not only to run down allegations but because two-thirds of my sources were later rumored to be drug dealers," he says.
"I would meet with one top counter-narcotics commander and come away impressed by his tough talk. But later somebody else would tell me, 'You didn't talk to him, did you? He's the biggest drug dealer of them all.'
"Ultimately, the most difficult part of all this is that there is so much anecdotal evidence of the drug trade and so little legal proof. I would meet a deputy minister of this, or a governor of that, and be taken into a lavish home with lovely carpets and chandeliers and furniture. All the while I'd wonder, 'How does this guy stretch a government salary of $100 a month to afford all this?' "
• Pipeline to a Story: The article on the proposed natural-gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan (page 5), came out of a social visit by Scott Baldauf to congratulate an old friend. "Mir Sediq was appointed as the new minister for mines and industry. I have known him for a few years, and his elevation to the status of wazir, or minister, put him in charge of one of Afghanistan's most bloated ministries. But it's also one of the few ministries with the potential to generate revenue for the government," says Scott.
"Nobody knows how many employees are on the ministry payroll. One estimate is 260,000. A friend who is an adviser to Sediq told me about a debate between two deputy ministers. One deputy said the ministry needed to cut 60,000 jobs. Another deputy said that the Afghan government needed to keep these people because each employee probably supports 10 family members. 'The problem is, both of these guys are right,' said my friend."
David Clark Scott