I knew exactly how this was going to evolve. Two planes crash into the NY World Trade Center, and all hell was to break loose in Central Asia. The morning after 9/11, it seemed however that few people sitting in this room now, realized how it was going to influence their work, their lives for the coming years… They all had a typical denial reaction. Until it started to hit them in the face. Now, three days later.
And there was no denying the facts anymore today! Pakistan and Afghanistan are now continuously in the news, with the world’s big news networks flying in with plane loads of equipment.
Just as 9/11 happened, we were giving a training for our Afghan staff here in Islamabad. Last night, we took some out for dinner. We picked them up from their hotel, and took them as a treat to one of the fanciest restaurant in town, in the Marriott hotel. As we drove up through the entrance of the Marriott parking lot, there was actually a traffic jam of the small local taxis, each with a huge satellite dish strapped onto their roof rack. Stickers on them for the big news networks. CNN, BBC, Sky, AFP, Fox, Al Jazeera, ITN, ITV, RAI… The hotel’s roof was engulfed in bright floodlights as the anchor speakers were ‘Reporting Live From Islamabad’, with the city lights in the background..
No more denial that our lives were going to take a sharp turn for the worse.. We were going to be in the midst of all the action… And the reactions of the people in the meeting was taking a twist today: from denial to a slight state of panic. The tone of the meeting is definitively much more nervous than the previous days.
My thoughts are running off. I am thinking of the Afghan staff at dinner last night. They were worried about their families left back home in Mazar, Kabul, Faizabad, Jalalabad… Would the Taliban go nuts, and start murdering and plundering? Or empose an ever stricter regime? They wondered how each of them was going to get back home, as we evacuated all international staff from Afghanistan the day after 9/11. We also suspended the UN flights from Islamabad into Afghanistan…
Somewhere, a change of tone in the conversation draws my attention. A lady from one of the agencies starts talking in a low voice. I concentrate again.
She is leaning forward and whispers slowly:
- ‘Yes, I know we will have problems. The US special forces, the spooks, have already arrived. I saw them last night’.
Hey, that was news to me.
- ‘Yes, I am sure. I saw them. Last night I was in the Crown Plaza hotel around the corner’, she continues.
I start thinking.. The hotel she spoke about was where we picked up our Afghan guests last night.
- ‘Four of them arrived, driving a small white, unmarked 4x4.’
Hey, that is funny, we were driving the old office car last night. The organisation’s emblem sticker had peeled of, so there were no more markings on it.
- ‘There was one normal looking guy with three big –I mean huge- guys behind him. One was an Afro-American. They were all dressed the same. Kaki trousers, safari jackets, handhelds on their belts.
Hmmm.. Robert, Martin and Terah were with me. Terah is Ugandan. They are all pretty big guys, now that I think of it. We were all wearing our safari jackets, and yeah, we wore our mission clothes.
- ‘They did not say anything. They just walked into the hotel lobby, picked up some local guys, and drove off again. US special forces. Spooks, no doubt.’
Hmmm…We picked up our Afghan staff last night…
Since then, rumour had it the ‘Belgian Special Forces’ had arrived. :-)
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