Afghanistan: The Unknown Country


Afghanistan: The Unknown Country

Lyse Doucet journeys to the parts of Afghanistan that don't normally feature in news coverage, to show a different side of a country which has been at war for 30 years.


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Transcript


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This is a country that's known war for 30 years.

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That may be how you know Afghanistan.

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I've been coming here for much of that time -

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and there's another country, too.

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Everyone who matters seems to have gone through here -

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emperors, explorers, conquerors... and just the curious.

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There's just something about this country and its people that captures the imagination and interest.

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I always say, no-one comes to Afghanistan once.

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I'm on a journey through a land I've grown to love -

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a place that continues to amaze.

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I wouldn't have expected the head of the Islamic shrine to be riding a buzkashi horse.

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'You'll never know who you'll meet.' Well, you're the only Japanese sushi chef in Afghanistan!

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Well, they allege that you're involved in the drugs trade,

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that you're the main power broker,

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they even allege that you support the Taliban.

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-Are you proud to be Afghan?

-Oh, yeah, why not? I'm Afghani!

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'I'm going on a journey to take you beyond the headlines.'

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My journey begins in the far north of Afghanistan, in the bustling city of Mazar-i-Sharif.

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It's the day before the first day of spring, the first day of the new year - Nawrooz.

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Afghans travel from across this country to be here

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to celebrate this ancient Persian tradition.

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The Taliban banned Nawrooz as un-Islamic,

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but it's a very Afghan time, one of their most festive holidays.

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'Security is tight.'

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TRANSLATION:

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You're not worried about security?

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Look at the police, look at the police!

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Look at the check!

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They're everywhere.

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You have to admire their courage - people bringing their families here, driving for hours to reach

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Mazar-i-Sharif - they know about the threats, they see the security, but they've lived in a country

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which has been at war for some 30 years, so they get used to it and they get on with life.

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They want it to change, but they're not going to let it get in the way of a good celebration.

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And what better way to celebrate the new year than with one of the much-loved traditions of the north?

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Buzkashi - that means goat-grabbing.

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It's Afghanistan's oldest sport, its national game.

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Two teams fight over the carcass of a headless goat.

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They have to grab it, gallop free of everyone else, then drop it in a chalked circle.

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'I found myself sitting next to Babrak Noorzai, a young economist.'

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Buzkashi has a wide range of fans.

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Why do you think Afghans like it so much? It's quite a unique sport.

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Buzkashi is the traditional game of Afghanistan.

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And mostly in this region, especially in the north,

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people like the horses, riding the horses -

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that's the reason they like it so much.

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Some Afghans say they would like Buzkashi to be an Olympic sport.

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Everything is possible!

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If it's part of the Olympics, then Afghan, they will like that very much.

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That would mean countries all over the world would have to play it - do you think they would?

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Maybe they might bring slight changes or slight...corrections!

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I think Afghans like it the way it is. It's very rough, and everyone...!

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THEY LAUGH No, the rules of the game will be the same.

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-There's no rules, is there?

-Yes, there is.

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'Buzkashi used to have hundreds of riders, no teams, no written rules. It's a bit more organised now.

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'But some still call it the world's wildest game.

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'It's not a sport for women, although Western women are given the status of special guests.'

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I came to my first Buzkashi game right at this very place more than 20 years ago,

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when the communists were ruling Afghanistan - do you think it's changed at all?

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The games are not changing - it's the same game. Maybe only the regime has changed.

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'In the midst of the melee, I spotted a familiar face.

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'What was a cleric from Mazar's most famous shrine doing on the playing field?'

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I wouldn't have expected the head of the Islamic shrine to be riding a buzkashi horse.

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How many years have you been playing buzkashi?

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Maybe more than 25 years.

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What do you need to be a good buzkashi rider?

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Afarin, congratulations!

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Buzkashi used to be the game of choice for rival warlords - the rich own the horses, they host the match.

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Today's teams are sponsored by big business, but it doesn't change the spirit.

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It's almost like an Afghan election - one team said they won,

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and then the other team came in and said no, they didn't win,

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they didn't go all the way to the end of the field.

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The disputes raged. One team declared a boycott.

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I decided it was time for me to go too.

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New Year's Day dawned.

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More than 100,000 people had turned out.

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Just look at all the crowds - they've been queuing up since early this morning.

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Everyone wants to be at the shrine for this greatest of days in the Afghan calendar.

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A lot of people, a lot of security and a lot of anticipation.

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Mazar-i-Sharif means "noble shrine", and this is it.

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'In this Muslim nation, the day begins at the exquisite

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'blue-tiled shrine of Hazrat Ali, the Prophet Muhammad's son-in-law.'

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He's believed to be buried here in this sacred place.

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Just look at the birds - they have this belief here

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that if a brown bird comes in and joins the white birds,

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then within 40 days, that bird will also be white.

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A place where the faithful believe prayers are answered, and on Nawrooz, wishes are made.

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Even at that young age, they hope for good for the people, good for the country.

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Nawrooz mubarak - happy new year.

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In a country where much has been lost, Afghans hold onto their traditions.

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They never fail to honour old friends.

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That means a warm welcome from Basir Babai on Afghan national TV.

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So much for keeping a low profile.

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The last time I was here it was a snow storm in Mazar-i-Sharif, so it's lovely to come when the sun

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is shining and we all hope it's the start of a shining year for Afghanistan.

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Nawrooz mubarak. Nawrooz mubarak.

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Afghans across the country are watching this.

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This is the moment.

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The raising of the Janda, the Islamic banner, heralds the start of a new year.

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But it's much more than that.

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Legend has it, if this banner is raised in one smooth pull, it will be a good year.

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No wonder they put it in the hands of the strongest men.

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You can just feel the excitement here and the anticipation and relief

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when the Janda went up in one smooth motion.

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Look at the people - they're actually climbing over the fence, look at them, they want to go

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and touch the flag. That's how much it matters to them.

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In a country where good news is rare, Afghans can be forgiven for holding onto that.

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We hope that the Janda is an omen for the new year.

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Look at the crowd - it's full of doves and papers cascading, wishing everyone a happy new year.

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What an extraordinary day.

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There's such an open feeling in Mazar-i-Sharif.

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It's the wide avenues with the open shops.

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You see more women on the streets here.

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The sense that it's safe to stroll on a warm spring day.

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Mazar-i-Sharif,

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it has got security.

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-It's a good city for young people like you?

-For everyone.

-Really?

-Yeah. No fighting, no explosions.

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My father, he says, if you need carpet, a low price I will give for you, if you want.

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Really? If he's a good carpet seller, he will give me a high price!

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'I've always loved carpet shopping, even if I'm just looking.

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'You never know what will turn up.'

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9/11 one...

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Twin Towers...

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Who buys this one?

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The tourists. The Afghans tell many of their stories in the carpets that they weave.

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These are the carpets that were woven during the decade-long Soviet occupation

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of their country - millions of Afghans were forced out of the country -

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and suddenly, instead of flowers and birds and faces

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and lovely intricate designs being woven into the carpets,

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you had the Kalashnikov rifles, the tanks, the grenades. You know, a country - look -

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covered with military vehicles,

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and suddenly this became the story of Afghanistan woven right into their carpets.

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It's a story still glorified by those whose own history is woven through it.

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Like General Atta Mohammad Noor.

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In the '80s, he was one of the Mujahideen who waged jihad until the Soviet army was forced to retreat.

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'He's still fighting - to keep fit.

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'At 6am, this is how Governor Atta starts the day.'

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OK.

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'Maybe not the best decision.

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'Governor Atta is not a man who likes to lose.'

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You have more practice.

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22 years old, fighting.

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How many years were you in the jihad, like that, in those conditions?

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'How life has changed.'

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'Most Afghans would find a lot of this unbelievable.'

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Your poster is everywhere.

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There's more posters of you than President Karzai.

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'No wonder the president is wary of the ambitious man they call King of the North.

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'For now, Governor Atta is trying to transform this city into a modern hub -

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'there's even a theme park and an underground shopping centre.'

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I came here when it was just a hole in the ground.

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The governor says the wants to build the Dubai of Afghanistan - let's see what it looks like.

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Were you really thinking of Dubai? You wanted a Dubai here?

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This is your big dream.

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'Many here support their governor.

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'But some say he's using his power to get rich,

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'that he does business like a warlord, even though he looks like a CEO.'

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You showed us your city and you want to be seen as a builder, a governor,

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but a lot of people still call you a warlord.

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-Good luck, see you again!

-OK!

-Have a nice day!

-Thank you. You too.

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An American delegation is waiting.

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More often than not, they're turning to men they call "can-do warlords"

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to get the job done.

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Afghans want to reach for something new and better.

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But the path to a brighter future is being made by people from a darker past.

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And so to the west,

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to a city where centuries of history have left their mark.

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I've always loved coming to Herat - they call it Afghanistan's cultural capital.

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Minarets from the 15th century almost form a gateway to this ancient city.

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It lies along centuries-old trade routes at the crossroads of the Middle East and Asia.

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'At moments, I can almost feel I'm in Iran, with all the Persian influences.'

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You see it in the stonework,

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on this lane of booksellers,

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and you also see it in the style.

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The latest from Tehran - many Herati women wear Iranian chadors.

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Why are you wearing this chador and not the burka?

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Do you wear burka as well?

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No.

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'But there's so much the women can't control.

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'Some told me, in whispers, they'd prefer the kind of coat I'm wearing -

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'their husbands wouldn't let them.

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'And yet, for all that, there is some light in the darkness.'

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Look at the sparkle in Afghan women's lives - but there's no way they can wear that in public.

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This is for the private world, for their husbands, for their families.

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This is what they wear to Afghan weddings when they're just mainly with the women.

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Glitter, glamour - don't think that their lives are just drab and black.

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So much is still taboo here, and yet look at the rickshaws - is love in the air?

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Every one of them is emblazoned with words of love

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or images of hearts.

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Who could take issue with that?

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Everyone wants to be loved.

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In Herat, you can even hire someone to say sweet nothings.

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I went to meet the master flatterer, Jamal Uddin.

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How you describe what you do?

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Why do you think...

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people need a person like you

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to make them happy?

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'Then the master flatterer was absorbed in his trade.

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'With a few quick scribbles, he reveals the art of the impromptu.'

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'Was I flattered?

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'Perhaps. It was all a lovely echo of the old Persian royal courts.

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'In Herat, you often feel you are stepping back in time -

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'no more so than at the ancient Citadel.

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'Herat is home to some of the greatest jewels of Afghan history.

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'It's hoping to be given the status of a World Heritage Site, and this is the centrepiece.

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'It was in danger of crumbling into the ground,

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'but archaeologists like Daoud Sediq are working to save it.'

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Such an important part of Afghanistan's heritage -

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why is it, for you, so important to preserve the Citadel?

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The Citadel was originally erected by Alexander the Great,

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so the core of the Alexander the Great Citadel is still here

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on the foundation, on the hill -

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so that was why it was very important for everyone.

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It's been literally a battlefield -

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the Soviets when they occupied Afghanistan,

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they used it as an ammunition dump.

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When you found it to restore it, it must have been ruins.

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Exactly - in very bad condition.

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There was a lot of destruction, ruin and even ammunition.

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Land mines?

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Yes, absolutely - we collected a lot.

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But...none of them are dangerous?

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-Er, there is - the mining team came many times here and they clean up the mines.

-Wow.

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'Battles raged through the centuries from these ramparts.

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'Genghis Khan laid it to waste.'

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But a modern battle rages now in the shadow of the Citadel's ancient walls.

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Developers are trying to conquer what's left of the crumbling old town.

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And in places, they're winning.

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This is mud houses, very important houses.

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-What happened here?

-There is a mega destruction here,

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many houses destroyed, and they are going to build a new concrete market here.

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-A modern market?

-Market.

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When you see this gaping hole, how does that make you feel?

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It's really painful for me.

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-This is very important archaeology here, and they destroy everything.

-Does this happen a lot?

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Absolutely. Everywhere.

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It's almost like mud-brick house by mud-brick house, Herat could be destroyed.

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I think so. This is like a cancer.

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'It's a cancer that has spread elsewhere in the country.

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'But you really feel it here.'

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But if parts of Herat are dying, others are full of life.

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Of course, in this traditional Muslim society, this isn't a place of nightclubs.

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In this cultural capital, I found another kind of night life.

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It's poetry night.

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Afghans have written and recited their stories in verse

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for hundreds of years, enhanced by the grace of the Persian language.

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Traditional Herati music magnifies the mood.

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The doyen of the night is 83-year-old Fedayee Herawi, a poet since the age of 12.

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You have written poems during the communist era, Mujahideen, Taliban, Karzai...

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It's a rare treat to be where Afghan women take the stage as equals and speak what's in their heart.

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Does it give you a kind of freedom, to be able to express yourself in your poetry?

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'In this moment, it did feel good, as if everything was somehow possible.'

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That the future, like these poems, was full of promise.

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Even if, when you're ten years old, you still need a bit of help.

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Across this oldest of Afghan cities, I found the oldest of human desires -

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to rise above daily cares to seek what's beautiful and sweet,

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to celebrate what it means to be Afghan.

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'But that's harder in other places.'

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And one of the hardest places is the most contested - Kandahar, in the south.

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But the road is too dangerous.

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'The only way I could get there was by air.'

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'I was heading there with anticipation and apprehension.

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'In recent years, I was told it was just too dangerous to visit...

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'..despite tens of thousands of foreign troops there.

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'But to understand Afghanistan you have to go to Kandahar -

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'heartland of the nation's biggest tribe, the Pashtuns,

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'birthplace of the Taliban.'

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Thank you very much.

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'So our moves were carefully planned.'

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When any foreigner comes to Kandahar, they say, well, who's waiting for you?

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You have to have some on waiting for you here, the city is just too dangerous.

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Who's waiting for us? Well, armoured vehicles belonging to to the man they regard as, well,

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the main power broker, the King of Kandahar now, Ahmad Wali Karzai,

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he's the half-brother of President Karzai.

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'I've known his family for years - his people are looking after us.

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'You never know what a day in Kandahar will bring.

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'When the communists were in power, I still met their Mujahideen enemies right in the centre of the city.

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'When I came to Ahmad Wali Karzai's wedding here, a gunman opened fire on the President.

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'Now the government says it's in charge, but the Taliban are still here.

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'Kandahar feels very much on edge - it is.

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'Foreigners don't usually walk the streets - it's just too dangerous.

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'But with local guards watching my back, it was worth the risk to talk to Afghans about their city.'

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When you're on the streets, do you feel safe?

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We want to save ourselves, our country, our people, by our own hand.

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If you cut our hands we cannot save the country.

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Our hands is...both sides -

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Taliban and Americans, both.

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Scared of both?

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Well, everyone we talked to says it's too dangerous on the streets of Kandahar.

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They're fearful, and we also have this rule, we shouldn't be anywhere longer than 15 or 20 minutes,

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so we're also going to leave this neighbourhood, too.

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So we took refuge in an unexpected place.

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Kandahar is home to dozens of body-building gyms - it's popular all over the country.

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This one belongs to one of the country's most famous body builders, Mohammad Gul Lalai.

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-I love what you have on your back - what does it say?

-Oh, thank you!

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-Yes! Proud to be Afghan!

-Proud to be Afghan!

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-Yes.

-Are you proud to be Afghan?

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-Yes, why not?

-Really?

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What is it, when you make yourself strong, you're making yourself strong as an Afghan?

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-Yeah, yeah, an Afghan.

-Well, I'm sure Afghanistan is proud of you as well.

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-Thank you very much.

-The gym is plastered with

0:30:250:30:29

pictures of Mohammad in his prime - not only did he win the Mr Kandahar title, he was also Mr Afghanistan.

0:30:290:30:37

Although showing off your muscles wasn't so easy when Taliban set the rules.

0:30:370:30:43

-You could wear what you're wearing now?

-Yeah, the upper body.

0:30:500:30:53

But I wondered what they'd make of the poster boy

0:31:010:31:04

for Afghan bodybuilders, the American action star turned politician.

0:31:040:31:08

You go to any of the hundreds of gyms, you'll see Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime,

0:31:080:31:16

which was a few decades ago, beaming down at you with of course his body exposed.

0:31:160:31:21

You want to be like Arnold?

0:31:210:31:23

He looks like Afghan? Arnold Schwarzenegger looks like an Afghan?

0:31:380:31:42

Did he come to visit Afghanistan, Arnold?

0:31:420:31:44

No, no. He has not come to visit.

0:31:440:31:47

Maybe now that he's not governor, he can come.

0:31:470:31:49

Yes, yes. Very good.

0:31:490:31:52

But even here, I couldn't stay for long.

0:31:530:31:57

On the streets outside, unpredictable Kandahar had struck again -

0:31:570:32:03

I found myself in the midst of a military operation.

0:32:030:32:08

US soldiers nervously scanned the streets, traffic was blocked, tension mounted.

0:32:080:32:16

Sorry, why is all the traffic blocked, what happened today?

0:32:160:32:18

Er, we've got a vehicle down over there, a wheel came off it,

0:32:180:32:21

so we're trying to stop the traffic from coming through so we can get the...

0:32:210:32:25

-Trying to fix the wheel on your vehicle?

-We're trying to get it hooked up so we can tow it out.

0:32:250:32:29

-Is this a security...?

-Yeah.

-You're worried about it.

0:32:290:32:32

Yeah, we don't want a bunch of traffic going through when we're trying to hook up and get out.

0:32:320:32:36

All this, over a broken wheel?!

0:32:360:32:40

When something like this happens you see people get nervous, the Afghans are nervous, the foreign forces

0:32:400:32:45

are nervous, this is the kind of town

0:32:450:32:48

where assassinations happen, suicide bombers, I mean, you've got

0:32:480:32:51

this kind of a target here for too long,

0:32:510:32:53

you're creating a real risk for yourself and for the Afghans here.

0:32:530:32:57

Not everyone is complaining about the US presence here.

0:33:050:33:08

Some Afghans, with connections and contracts, are getting rich.

0:33:080:33:13

20 minutes outside the city, in the secure perimeter of the US military airbase, a mini town is springing up

0:33:130:33:19

to cater for the influx of foreign contractors and troops.

0:33:190:33:25

Billions are being spent to fight the Taliban

0:33:250:33:27

and win the war for Afghan hearts and minds - it's a good life in this bubble.

0:33:270:33:34

What are the most popular ones?

0:33:340:33:36

Er, American movie, er, Indian movie, everything.

0:33:360:33:40

-What do you like?

-Er, like, Van Damme, Arnold...

0:33:400:33:47

Arnold Schwarzenegger?

0:33:470:33:49

Yeah. Now I like Arnold, Van Damme, best movie too much, I see always.

0:33:490:33:54

USA movies, very good.

0:33:540:33:56

-You guys are shopping?

-Yeah, we live just down here.

0:34:090:34:12

Oh, look at that accent!

0:34:120:34:14

-English!

-Yeah.

-Where are you from?

0:34:140:34:16

-Lincolnshire.

-Lincolnshire! And you?

0:34:160:34:19

-Florida, United States.

-Florida!

0:34:190:34:21

And you're going shopping here?

0:34:210:34:24

This is like Beverly Hills, huh?

0:34:240:34:27

I don't want to go home, I'm going to stay here for years, I want to work here for as long as I can.

0:34:280:34:32

You want to stay here as long as you can?

0:34:320:34:34

Yeah, I've learned more here than I did at school in the UK, than I did working in the UK.

0:34:340:34:38

I've met all these great people from all round the world -

0:34:380:34:41

-much better to be here than in England.

-It's a dream come true?

0:34:410:34:45

Yeah, it is actually - for me, it is, I love it here.

0:34:450:34:49

Life is good if you're a contractor making money behind the barriers.

0:34:500:34:55

For now, it's a boom town.

0:34:550:34:58

We left the safety of the American bubble to go into another one - of the man keeping an eye on us here.

0:35:040:35:12

Just look at the security as we enter the compound of Ahmad Wali Karzai.

0:35:190:35:24

Concrete barriers, HESCO barriers, armed men - this is a man with a lot of enemies.

0:35:240:35:31

Look at how full it is, packed with people.

0:35:370:35:39

It's like this every day - they come from all over the province and beyond.

0:35:390:35:44

There he is now, he's either on the phone a lot

0:35:460:35:48

or talking to people a lot, that's essentially what he does.

0:35:480:35:51

-Hello, Ahmad Wali. Nice to see you.

-How are you?

0:35:510:35:54

-How've you been?

-I'm fine, thank you very much.

0:35:540:35:56

'He's Kandahar's most powerful man - with the tribal and political connections to get any job done.

0:35:560:36:03

'And in the room with him there were ex-Taliban, and who knows, possibly future Taliban.

0:36:030:36:08

'And the people caught in the middle.

0:36:080:36:11

They were working as a day labourer, which is, the coalition, the Americans, are paying them

0:36:110:36:17

a salary, so they were going to the work in the morning,

0:36:170:36:21

and the Taliban stopped them to make example of them.

0:36:210:36:24

It's been two weeks this happened, two weeks ago.

0:36:350:36:38

Two weeks ago, their ears were cut off.

0:36:380:36:41

Shocking, but sadly, all too part of life here.

0:36:440:36:48

Ahmad Wali invited me to lunch for a chance to catch up.

0:36:510:36:56

You must have threats against you - it's the most heavily-secured place in Kandahar.

0:36:590:37:02

This is for, erm, for the big attacks,

0:37:020:37:06

like, suicide attacks.

0:37:060:37:08

As you know, there was two major suicide attacks on me, on my office.

0:37:080:37:13

-Are there still threats against you now?

-Every day.

0:37:130:37:16

-It's Taliban or...

-Of course.

0:37:160:37:18

Criminals, drug traffickers...?

0:37:180:37:21

-Taliban, Taliban.

-It's all Taliban?

-Mm-hmm.

0:37:210:37:24

Ahmad Wali has also been the target of many accusations -

0:37:240:37:27

some call him the problem in Kandahar, not the solution.

0:37:270:37:31

I'm a little off the media.

0:37:310:37:34

Why, because you came under so many accusations you have to respond to all the time?

0:37:340:37:38

Because when I was down here last year with President Karzai and General McChrystal,

0:37:380:37:43

the top commander at the time, you remember,

0:37:430:37:45

there was all the talk about they were going to put pressure on you.

0:37:450:37:48

Yea, this is, erm,

0:37:480:37:51

it's over.

0:37:510:37:53

Why, because you proved...?

0:37:530:37:56

No, I'm the same, I've done nothing different.

0:37:560:38:00

Mmm. What do you think it was?

0:38:000:38:03

It was mostly unproven allegations which was making things bad.

0:38:030:38:07

Well, they allege that you're involved in the drugs trade,

0:38:070:38:10

they allege that you're the main power broker, they even allege that you support the Taliban.

0:38:100:38:14

Yeah.

0:38:140:38:17

-But you know what they say - there's no smoke without fire.

-Well, that's in the past.

0:38:170:38:22

There's an old Afghan proverb that says whoever controls Kandahar controls Afghanistan.

0:38:280:38:35

No-one ever seems to win for long.

0:38:350:38:39

Today, it's safe enough for traditional wrestling - but only just.

0:38:400:38:45

Moments like this are little victories.

0:38:470:38:50

That's how life is measured here, with no real certainty about who, in the end, will come out on top.

0:38:500:38:56

Until now, this trip has taken me to Afghanistan's great cities.

0:39:030:39:08

But leaving Kandahar, I headed to the centre,

0:39:080:39:13

to a village called Paicotal.

0:39:130:39:16

80% of Afghans live in rural areas like this, eking out a meagre existence.

0:39:230:39:31

The further you get from the city centre, the hubs, this is what it's like.

0:39:360:39:41

You feel like you're going back in time.

0:39:410:39:43

There are no roads, the houses are mud brick, people pretty well live like they've always lived.

0:39:430:39:51

There's no electricity, there's no running water.

0:39:510:39:54

After several hours of driving, the car could go no further on this road.

0:39:560:40:02

If I wanted to travel as most Afghans do, I would need some donkeys - and, of course, a guide.

0:40:020:40:09

We were soon on our way, despite a hesitant start.

0:40:090:40:13

Are we going the right way?

0:40:150:40:16

Afghans have a really good sense of direction, though.

0:40:320:40:36

Timing, they're not so good.

0:40:360:40:38

When we left they said it was about 40 minutes riding on donkeys.

0:40:380:40:43

40 minutes later they said, "Well, another hour."

0:40:430:40:47

And then an hour later it was, another hour and a half.

0:40:470:40:53

Finally, after five hours I made it to the village.

0:40:570:41:02

But weariness was swept away by the warmth of a traditional welcome.

0:41:020:41:08

Afghans say it doesn't matter how big your house is, it's how big your heart is.

0:41:080:41:14

Paicoatal, nestling in the foothills of the Koh-i-Baba mountains, is home to around 70 families.

0:41:250:41:31

They don't have much.

0:41:310:41:33

The nearest school and clinic are hours away on foot.

0:41:330:41:37

Young men have to leave to find paid labour.

0:41:370:41:41

This is what life under the poverty line looks like.

0:41:410:41:47

Anwar Hussain is the malik, or head man.

0:41:470:41:50

They say even the bread isn't good here - they would love

0:42:290:42:33

to have bread made of wheat - instead it's made of barley.

0:42:330:42:37

Life expectancy in Afghanistan is around 45 years.

0:42:410:42:45

Around half the children are malnourished.

0:42:450:42:49

It's hard to fathom how they endure such gruelling lives.

0:42:520:42:56

It's easier to talk when we gather, as women, on our own.

0:43:040:43:09

What do you think about the world outside Afghanistan, what is it like?

0:43:090:43:14

For all the distance between their life and mine, there was still a space for girls to share a giggle.

0:43:510:43:57

What do you do for entertainment, for fun?

0:43:570:44:02

At moments like this, you feel a shared humanity, no matter how different our lives.

0:44:260:44:33

But I'm leaving this village - they will stay,

0:44:330:44:36

in lives that are, for the most part, determined from the day of birth.

0:44:360:44:42

Paicotal will never make the news, but our next stop has - Bamiyan.

0:44:470:44:53

For nearly 2,000 years, pilgrims and poets flocked here

0:44:580:45:02

to marvel at two stone Buddhas hewn from the mountainside.

0:45:020:45:06

They were carved when Bamiyan was an important centre for Buddhism,

0:45:060:45:10

hundreds of years before the birth of Islam.

0:45:100:45:14

Then in 2001, the Taliban condemned them as idols, an affront to Islam.

0:45:140:45:20

Afghans lost one of their most precious relics - so did the world.

0:45:250:45:30

But now the people of Bamiyan want the world to come back to visit.

0:45:350:45:41

It's absolutely fantastic they actually have a tourism office here in Bamiyan.

0:45:410:45:46

I think it's the only one in Afghanistan.

0:45:460:45:49

You can see we're going through all these back alleys to try and find

0:45:490:45:53

the tourist office - and the roads aren't so good, either!

0:45:530:45:57

This road is terrible!

0:45:570:46:00

Once I found the office, there was another surprise.

0:46:050:46:08

I'd met Gul Hussein two years ago when he was studying to be a tour guide in Bamiyan.

0:46:080:46:14

And there was more to come.

0:46:140:46:16

Oh, ski boots!

0:46:160:46:20

Look at all the ski boots!

0:46:200:46:23

-A lot of people go skiing here?!

-Yeah.

-Who goes skiing? Afghans?

0:46:230:46:27

-Afghans and internationals.

-Really?

0:46:270:46:29

Extraordinary. This is, after all, a country of mountains - but how do you get here

0:46:290:46:35

when there are no commercial flights and the main road from Kabul isn't safe?

0:46:350:46:39

But that wasn't stopping Gul Hussein's dream.

0:46:390:46:44

If we talk about all of Afghanistan, it's difficult.

0:46:440:46:46

But when we come to talk about Bamiyan, in Bamiyan it's no problem,

0:46:460:46:52

Bamiyan is peace province.

0:46:520:46:55

-So how many tourists have you had this winter?

-This winter for skiing

0:46:550:46:59

I had two, er, real tourists - one was from Australia, one was from UK.

0:46:590:47:06

-Two REAL tourists.

-Yeah.

0:47:060:47:08

The last time I saw you, you talked about your dream, which was...

0:47:080:47:13

Which was tour company!

0:47:130:47:15

To make a tour company!

0:47:150:47:17

Yeah. So, my hope that one day my company should be famous for all Afghanistan, not for only Bamiyan.

0:47:170:47:23

To help improve those statistics, I decided to be the third and last tourist of the season.

0:47:260:47:32

With the snows all but gone, we had to walk to one of the furthest peaks.

0:47:320:47:37

Fortunately, the Afghan ski lift was working - that's the donkey.

0:47:370:47:44

Ghaffar, my driver, gave it a go, reminding me of Afghans' fearlessness and enthusiasm.

0:47:440:47:51

Way to go, Ghaffar!

0:47:540:47:56

These Afghan boys tagged along with us, taking to the slopes with whatever they can find at home.

0:48:020:48:09

The littlest is sliding down the slopes in his mother's shoes.

0:48:110:48:15

Look at that - a bit of wood,

0:48:180:48:20

a rubber boot,

0:48:200:48:22

a bit of metal.

0:48:220:48:24

Tell me, Asif, why you like skiing so much.

0:48:240:48:29

What does it feel like when you're out there skiing?

0:48:350:48:38

May this county give him

0:48:590:49:01

the peace and prosperity just enough to make him a ski champion some day.

0:49:010:49:08

If tourism is to work, they'll need a few good hotels - there are some, but none quite like the Silk Road.

0:49:200:49:27

It's not just the location, it's the owners.

0:49:270:49:31

-Moursal?

-Hi, how are you?

0:49:310:49:34

SHE LAUGHS

0:49:340:49:35

Salam aleikum!

0:49:350:49:37

Aleikum Salam.

0:49:370:49:39

I've known Moursal for years - she first came here as a journalist.

0:49:430:49:47

It's still so amazing to see you here.

0:49:470:49:49

-Is it?

-Yes.

-Why?

0:49:490:49:51

-Well, you're the only Japanese sushi chef in Afghanistan.

-I train some of the more

0:49:510:49:56

Afghan women - two lady, I trained.

0:49:560:50:00

So I'm working with them.

0:50:000:50:01

And I'm very happy to be teaching for the Afghans, to helping them to more develop.

0:50:010:50:07

Moursal, I have to say that every time I see you, you seem a little bit more Afghan.

0:50:070:50:11

-Is it?

-Yes!

-I hope, I want to keep it for, like, fooling ladies.

0:50:110:50:16

-I'm still Japanese.

-Really?

-Yeah.

0:50:180:50:21

But a little Afghan of course, yeah.

0:50:210:50:24

I love here, I love Afghanistan, I'm living here, yeah.

0:50:240:50:27

Moursal fell in love with this country on her first visit in the '80s.

0:50:290:50:33

She came back to report after the attacks of September 11th and found more than a story.

0:50:330:50:39

But then you also fell in love with an Afghan...

0:50:390:50:43

-Yes, it is.

-Sabour.

0:50:430:50:45

Yes, you know, if 9/11 is not happening, so nothing is happening, you know?

0:50:450:50:52

I change my life for 9/11.

0:50:520:50:55

-Are you Muslim now?

-I am Muslim.

0:50:550:50:58

Oh, you had to convert to get married?

0:50:580:51:00

Yes, it is. But it's not very good Muslim, little bit lazy Muslim.

0:51:000:51:06

Husband hated me some time,

0:51:060:51:09

you know? Yeah, but I try my best, yeah.

0:51:090:51:12

As long as God knows you're trying, Moursal, and that your husband knows you're trying.

0:51:120:51:17

Moursal invited me to stay for dinner - how could I refuse?

0:51:230:51:28

Well, it's delicious.

0:51:380:51:40

But what's also delicious is to see a Panjshiri eating Japanese food.

0:51:400:51:46

-Yeah!

-What did your family say, Sabour?

0:52:010:52:04

Because in Afghanistan, you don't marry

0:52:040:52:08

a person, you marry the family, you marry into the culture...

0:52:080:52:12

I couldn't help but smile - a Japanese married to an Afghan

0:52:290:52:33

from Panjshir eating sushi in Bamiyan with a Canadian.

0:52:330:52:38

A lovely way to end the evening.

0:52:380:52:40

It was the last day of my trip before heading back to Kabul.

0:52:480:52:52

But I couldn't leave Bamiyan without making one last stop.

0:52:520:52:56

No matter how many times you see these empty niches, they still take your breath away.

0:53:100:53:15

And every time I come to Bamiyan, no matter where I am in this valley,

0:53:150:53:19

you feel the presence of these Buddhas.

0:53:190:53:23

Abbas, a student I'd met years ago, is now a tour guide here.

0:53:290:53:34

I'll show you some interesting things. This is Buddha feet, you can see here.

0:53:340:53:41

But what a pity destroyed by the Taliban army in 2001.

0:53:410:53:47

But you know, you look,

0:53:470:53:49

and to think, it was the world's largest standing Buddha.

0:53:490:53:54

So it was so important to the world's heritage, to Afghanistan's heritage.

0:53:540:54:02

Yeah. Around here it was the Buddhism temples.

0:54:020:54:06

For Buddhists at that time it was so holy place.

0:54:060:54:11

'But in the Taliban's extreme creed, all this was sacrilege and had to be destroyed.

0:54:130:54:20

'Surprisingly, the evidence is still here.'

0:54:200:54:24

I will show to you some fragment of the dynamite.

0:54:240:54:30

They fired, they used bullets, they used artillery pieces...

0:54:300:54:34

Artillery pieces, yes.

0:54:340:54:37

-Like a fuse.

-Oh, a fuse.

0:54:370:54:40

-It took a long time to destroy them.

-One month.

0:54:400:54:42

One month?

0:54:420:54:44

Yeah, one month.

0:54:440:54:45

Those were very dark days.

0:54:450:54:47

Yes, so dark days.

0:54:470:54:50

Terrible.

0:54:500:54:52

'The best way to get a real feel for these colossal Buddhas

0:54:560:55:01

'is to climb the rough stairway hewn out of bare rock.'

0:55:010:55:03

I've stopped counting.

0:55:030:55:05

We've done a lot, more to come.

0:55:050:55:07

'It was well worth it.'

0:55:120:55:15

Buddha statue...

0:55:150:55:17

'From here, the valley seemed so serene,

0:55:190:55:22

'so peaceful. But even here, in this most hopeful of places,

0:55:220:55:27

'I still found fear about what lies ahead.'

0:55:270:55:30

At night you go home and you worry that the war will come again, the Taliban will come back?

0:55:300:55:36

-Yeah, maybe.

-But you will stay here with your Buddhas, you're not going to leave Afghanistan?

0:55:360:55:40

Maybe, yes, maybe, no.

0:55:400:55:43

Maybe when Taliban comes to Bamiyan, capture me and kill me -

0:55:430:55:51

because they thinking we are connecting with foreigners, but this is my select.

0:55:510:55:57

Because new generation, they are thinking, we should improve our country.

0:55:570:56:04

Bamiyan is a place where Afghans can find space to dream -

0:56:070:56:12

but dreams quickly run into limits here.

0:56:120:56:15

Bamiyan can only realise its promise if the rest of Afghanistan does, too.

0:56:150:56:20

Kabul - journey's end, a city bursting with life, bursting at its seams.

0:56:260:56:33

I arrived in the capital with a feeling of happiness, to have made a wonderful journey.

0:56:330:56:39

But it was a feeling soon tinged with sadness, as bad news came through.

0:56:390:56:46

'Reports from Mazar-i-Sharif say that some of those killed were beheaded...'

0:56:460:56:49

'At least nine people have been killed in the southern city of Kandahar...'

0:56:490:56:53

'..attacked a NATO base in the western city of Herat...'

0:56:530:56:56

Violence had been only a short distance behind on my trip.

0:56:560:56:59

Not long after I left Mazar-i-Sharif, the UN compound

0:56:590:57:03

was stormed by a mob, Kandahar saw multiple suicide bombings,

0:57:030:57:08

even peaceful Herat came under attack.

0:57:080:57:11

I wanted to spend my last hours in Afghanistan at one

0:57:120:57:17

of my favourite places, the old Royal Palace on the edge of the city.

0:57:170:57:21

I remember it in its prime, a magnificent building overlooking Kabul.

0:57:210:57:27

But like so much here, years of conflict have taken a terrible toll.

0:57:270:57:33

An Afghan friend once told me this palace seemed to be weeping tears

0:57:330:57:38

for the country and its people.

0:57:380:57:41

There is something about Afghanistan and I've seen it again on this journey - it's Afghans

0:57:410:57:47

with their sense of pride and honour, great sense of humour, sense of self...

0:57:470:57:53

There's this Afghan-ness about this place.

0:57:530:57:57

And on this journey I've seen so much that is good

0:57:570:58:01

and bright and strong,

0:58:010:58:04

but there's also this

0:58:040:58:07

long shadow of the war.

0:58:070:58:09

And there are moments when you hold your breath, knowing that all that's so bright

0:58:170:58:23

could just become dark again.

0:58:230:58:26

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:58:460:58:49

E-mail [email protected]

0:58:490:58:52

A journey through the parts of Afghanistan that don't normally feature in news coverage to meet some amazing people and see fascinating places. Lyse Doucet uses her many years experience in Afghanistan to show a different side of a country which has been at war for 30 years.


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