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Garth Bray: My intrepid Afghanistan journey

opinion Garth Bray

By Garth Bray

Published: 9:44AM Friday April 20, 2012 Source: ONE News

There are days in this job where you pinch yourself; today I had to remind myself this was no dream and I was climbing past a vertical minefield at 8000 feet surrounded by soldiers with the ancient Silk Road spread out on the valley floor below.

If it sounds like I'm playing tourist, it's because there's a real hope that tourism may one day help make this part of Afghanistan a richer place. And getting a good look from on high lets you see something of the alternatives.

The Red City is a dusty 45 minute drive (in an armoured convoy) from Bamiyan. The roads are a little rough - not as rough as they were five years ago my NZDF escort cheerfully tells me on the journey out.

The City is a series of arresting forts hewn from the hillside starting in the 4th century ; it was the base of a hero to the local Hazara people, a king who supposedly kept a live snake on each shoulder and it was captured by the Soviet Red Army, the mujahideen who drove them out and the Taliban that rampaged through this province a decade ago.

Ahead of me is a young man, improbably dressed in loafers and a two piece suit, scaling the rusty trail past thousands of white rocks marking cleared landmines and the odd red one marking live ordnance.

Hussein is a translator for NZAID. He's lived here on and off nearly sixteen years. The off parts are at the heart of why we are here.

He tells me of the time the Taliban came - in 1999, when he says they declared a week of killing, attacking locals in a grim replay of the tactics Genghis Khan deployed here centuries earlier when he ordered the massacre of every living thing - people, cats, birds rats.

After he says they would still beat people - for not praying or for not being able to prove the woman a man was walking with was his wife by describing the colour of the belt she was wearing under her dress.

He tells me they hid and held out and during a long cold winter, fought back, but only prevailed for a few weeks. The Taliban came back and this time the hunting lasted a month.

Hussein fled with his people over the mountains while his home burned behind him.

That's the measure of the hurt inflicted on the people and this land and goes some way to explain the rivalries and fears and violence that beset any chance of a happy future.

From the top of the hill the valley is deep red, stained with iron oxide and below an impressive stretch of asphalt traces the Silk Road.

Beyond it lies a massive iron ore deposit, the biggest in Afghanistan. Four licenses have just been granted to an Indian consortium and a Canadian miner and there is some pretty speculative talk of close to $15 billion worth of investment in the area - railways, power stations, a small city to house the roadbuilder springing up opposite this heritage site.

Ecotourism sounds fine and fitting but it looks like Afghanistan is preparing to go for the money. After all they've been through you can understand why.

I'm just glad I made my intrepid journey and had my look at the clear horizon in before it all changes.


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