Reporters on the Job
• Interviewing the Taliban: How does one arrange to meet an Afghan fighter who supports the Taliban? Pakistani reporter Ashraf Khan is based in Karachi, but called a colleague, a resident of Chaman, Pakistan, who had served as an interpreter and "fixer" in the past.
Ashraf asked his interpreter to see if he could arrange a meeting with a Taliban commander. It was set up for the weekend of the Afghan elections. "We were led, through a series of mobile phone calls, to the outskirts of Chaman," says Ashraf. The town is on the Pakistan side of the Afghan border.
Directed to a soccer field at 10:30 a.m., Ashraf and his interpreter waited. Finally, they heard the stutter of two motorcycles approaching. Their riders circled the field, scanning the area, before pulling up.
"We sat on the grass and talked for 45 minutes," says Ashraf. "He was on alert, always looking around. He was covered in dust and said he'd just come from Afghanistan." Ashraf's interpreter translated his words from Pashto to Urdu and back. "He was cautious," says Ashraf, but eager to tell about what his group was doing.
Staff writer Scott Baldauf, working on the same story, visited the Afghan city of Khost, which is north of Chaman. He found a former Taliban commander less willing to talk. "He had just returned from northern Waziristan three months ago as part of an amnesty program," says Scott. "But when I tried to talk with him about his activities in the Taliban, he became as nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs. All he wanted to talk about was how he had fought against the Soviets. Five years of his life was not up for discussion. The reason, a friend of his told me afterward, is that the Talib was afraid of saying something that could get him sent to Guantánamo. He told me: 'The mujahideen walk around like jackals, with their heads down. They don't have the courage or the opportunity to speak their minds.' "
David Clark Scott