Monday, 10 September 2012

9/11 My memories of that day 11 years ago.

9/11- 2001, Ferney Voltaire, France

10 September 2001 (9/10)

I had just come back from a walk past soft yellow corn fields, caressed by the early morning sun, with the Jura mountains as a backdrop on my right, and Mont Blanc on the other side of the path.

On my return to my hotel I got a message from a close friend of mine in Kabul informing me that Ahmed Shah Massoud (pictured right with Bob McKerrow) is either dead or dying. He is one of Afghanistan’s greatest leaders of the last century. Some news reports say it could be the work of Osama bin Laden.

My friend Azem was also killed and Massood Khalili badly injured, the Ambassador to India and son of the great Afghan poet.

I thought at the time that something sinister was unfolding.

I think of the times I met Massoud during my stay in Afghanistan between 1993 and 96, and the hour interview I had with him before I left in August 1996. I wrote in my diary that night. “My heart bleeds for you Afghanistan; the pain and hurt you've been through. Penalised by your geographic location and the pawn of superpowers for so long.”

Flight 175 crashes at about 590 mph into the south face of the South Tower of the World Trade Centre, hitting the building between floors 77 and 85. All 65 people on board are killed. Parts of the plane leave the building from its east and north sides, falling to the ground as far as six blocks away.

I was in Ferny Voltaire France, for a Red Cross training course when this drama began unfolding..
The next day, 11 September (9/11) my mind kept going back to Ahmed Shah Massoud and his senseless killing by hired killers posing as Arab TV cameramen. Just before 4 pm, we broke for afternoon tea. As I picked up a cup of tea, the manager came running and shouting in French, something about a disaster in America. A group formed at the TV in the bar and watched an interviewer talking about a plane hitting the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre in New York, then seconds later we saw the most spine-chilling metal and human bomb plough into the second tower Later the full story was told, Two planes were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York. A third was flown into the Pentagon in the state of Virginia. A fourth crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.

I wrote on 9/11, "Massoud gone, many thousands of lives lost in the four plane hijacks......"

The scenarios began to build up in my mind; retaliations on Afghanistan yet again. Alexander the Great, The Arabs, The Turks, Chengis Khan, Timur, Persians, The British x 3, Soviet Union and now a US led westerncoalition is there.

TERROR ATTACK: The first World Trade Centre tower begins to implode in New York on September 11, 2001.

One week later (18 September) I am in Pakistan appointed to lead the International Red Cross operation as refugees from Afghanistan were beginning to come across the border. Predictions were that at least a million were expected to cross.

It was a very busy time working with the Pakistan Red Crescent getting relief supplies out to border camps, setting up reception camps and putting in water and sanitation facilities, reinforcing existing medical clincs.. I recall having outstanding colleagues like Naoki Kokawa, Patrick Fuller, Dr. Moin, Dr. Burki, Fred Grimm and John LaPointe.   I remember interviews with Lyse Doucet from the BBC, John Burns LA Times and hordes of others. Here is a press release dated 21 September, 2001.

Pakistan Red Crescent gear up to respond to Afghan refugee crisis
As uncertainty continues to prevail in Afghanistan, thousands of Afghans are evacuating the country's major cities such as Kabul and Kandahar. Many are heading for the safety of mountainous areas in the interior of the country whilst tens of thousands have reportedly crossed into Pakistan despite the border remaining officially closed.

As anticipation of ever increasing numbers of Afghan refugees crossing into Pakistan grows, the Pakistan Red Crescent has already taken measures to respond to the crisis. An initial plan of action has been drawn up in consultation with the Federation and the ICRC and the first relief stocks have already left the Pakistan Red Crescent warehouses in Islamabad destined for the Baluchistan provincial branch headquarters in Quetta.

"Pakistan shares a border with Afghanistan that is over 2,000 kms long and it is relatively porous in some areas particularly the stretch adjacent to Baluchistan," says Bob McKerrow, Federations Head of delegation for South Asia. "We know that there are thousands of people waiting on the other side of the border for the chance to cross. Our immediate priority is to help those who have already crossed as well as monitoring relief supplies in the event of a major exodus."

This week the Red Crescent sent 1,000 tents, 10,000 blankets and 3,000 plastic water containers from Islamabad to Quetta. A further 2,000 blankets were also sent to Quetta from the Sind provincial branch headquarters in Karachi.

"At this point we plan to assist 120,000 refugees through our branches in North West Frontier Province and Baluchistan. It will be a major logistical challenge but we have already set up an operations room in our headquarters in Islamabad and we are identifying new warehousing space in Quetta," explains Dr. A. R Burki, Secretary General of the Pakistan Red Crescent.

The Pakistan Red Crescent is also planning to provide medical support to the refugees. Discussions are underway with government authorities in Quetta where a vacant hospital facility could be utilised by the Red Crescent. The Baluchistan branch already have four mobile health teams on standby. These teams were established with support from ECHO as part of the Red Crescent's response to the chronic drought which has affected the province for the past three years.In Peshawar the PRCS is considering utilising the Hayatabad paraplegic centre which was originally established in 1973 by the ICRC to rehabilitate war-wounded patients who had been evacuated from the conflict in neighbouring Afghanistan. The centre was handed over to the Pakistan Red CS in 1996 and has a range of facilities including ultrasound and x-ray, two fully functional operating theatres a physiotherapy unit and a workshop which produces items such as calipers, crutches and artificial limbs.

To support their work and that of other Red Cross Red Crescent Societies, the Federation has launched an appeal for nearly 8.8 million Swiss francs (5.5 million US dollars) to beef up its state of readiness to respond to the needs of large population movements following the recent attacks in the United States.

The primary focus of the appeal is to provide shelter, health care, clean water and food for up to 300,000 people both in the five countries bordering Afghanistan (Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran and Pakistan) and elsewhere if the need arises.

Finish of Press release

There were many of us who had worked in Afghanistan, written extensively on Afghanistan, and we were deeply worried about the current course of the war and the lack of credible scenarios for the future.

So on on December 17, 2010, I was one of a number of writers who wrote an open letter to President Obama 

To the President of the United States:

Mr. President,

We have been engaged and working inside Afghanistan, some of us for decades, as academics, experts and members of non-governmental organisations. Today we are deeply worried about the current course of the war and the lack of credible scenarios for the future. The cost of the war is now over $120 billion per year for the United States alone.

This is unsustainable in the long run. In addition, human losses are increasing. Over 680 soldiers from the international coalition – along with hundreds of Afghans – have died this year in Afghanistan, and the year is not yet over. We appeal to you to use the unparalleled resources and influence which the United States now brings to bear in Afghanistan to achieve that longed-for peace.

Despite these huge costs, the situation on the ground is much worse than a year ago because the Taliban insurgency has made progress across the country. It is now very difficult to work outside the cities or even move around Afghanistan by road. The insurgents have built momentum, exploiting the shortcomings of the Afghan government and the mistakes of the coalition. The Taliban today are now a national movement with a serious presence in the north and the west of the country. Foreign bases are completely isolated from their local environment and unable to protect the population. Foreign forces have by now been in Afghanistan longer than the Soviet Red Army.

Politically, the settlement resulting from the 2001 intervention is unsustainable because the constituencies of whom the Taliban are the most violent expression are not represented, and because the highly centralised constitution goes against the grain of Afghan tradition, for example in specifying national elections in fourteen of the next twenty years.

The operations in the south of Afghanistan, in Kandahar and in Helmand provinces are not going well. What was supposed to be a population-centred strategy is now a full-scale military campaign causing civilian casualties and destruction of property. Night raids have become the main weapon to eliminate suspected Taliban, but much of the Afghan population sees these methods as illegitimate. Due to the violence of the military operations, we are losing the battle for hearts and minds in the Pashtun countryside, with a direct effect on the sustainability of the war. These measures, beyond their debatable military results, foster grievance. With Pakistan’s active support for the Taliban, it is not realistic to bet on a military solution. Drone strikes in Pakistan have a marginal effect on the insurgency but are destabilising Pakistan. The losses of the insurgency are compensated by new recruits who are often more radical than their predecessors.

The military campaign is suppressing, locally and temporarily, the symptoms of the disease, but fails to offer a cure. Military action may produce local and temporary improvements in security, but those improvements are neither going to last nor be replicable in the vast areas not garrisoned by Western forces without a political settlement.

The 2014 deadline to put the Afghan National Army in command of security is not realistic. Considering the quick disappearance of the state structure at a district level, it is difficult to envision a strong army standing alone without any other state institutions around. Like it or not, the Taliban are a long-term part of the Afghan political landscape, and we need to try and negotiate with them in order to reach a diplomatic settlement. The Taliban’s leadership has indicated its willingness to negotiate, and it is in our interests to talk to them. In fact, the Taliban are primarily concerned about the future of Afghanistan and not – contrary to what some may think – a broader global Islamic jihad. Their links with al-Qaeda – which is not, in any case, in Afghanistan any more – are weak. We need to at least try to seriously explore the possibility of a political settlement in which the Taliban are part of the Afghan political system. The negotiations with the insurgents could be extended to all groups in Afghanistan and regional powers.

The current contacts between the Karzai government and the Taliban are not enough. The United States must take the initiative to start negotiations with the insurgents and frame the discussion in such a way that American security interests are taken into account. In addition, from the point of view of Afghanistan’s most vulnerable populations – women and ethnic minorities, for instance – as well as with respect to the limited but real gains made since 2001, it is better to negotiate now rather than later, since the Taliban will likely be stronger next year. This is why we ask you to sanction and support a direct dialogue and negotiation with the Afghan Taliban leadership residing in Pakistan. A ceasefire and the return of the insurgency leadership in Afghanistan could be part of a de-escalation process leading to a coalition government. Without any chance for a military victory, the current policy will put the United States in a very difficult position.

For a process of political negotiation to have a chance of addressing the significant core grievances and political inequalities it must occur on multiple levels – among the countries that neighbour Afghanistan as well as down to the provincial and subdistrict. These various tables around which negotiations need to be held are important to reinforce the message – and the reality – that discussions about Afghanistan’s political future must include all parties and not just be a quick-fix deal with members of the insurgency.

We believe that mediation can help achieve a settlement which brings peace to Afghanistan, enables the Taliban to become a responsible actor in the Afghan political order, ensures that Afghanistan cannot be used as a base for international terrorism, protects the Afghan people’s hard-won freedoms, helps stabilise the region, renders the large scale presence of international troops in Afghanistan unnecessary and provides the basis of an enduring relationship between Afghanistan and the international community. All the political and diplomatic ingenuity that the United States can muster will be required to achieve this positive outcome. It is time to implement an alternative strategy that would allow the United States to exit Afghanistan while safeguarding its legitimate security interests.


Matthieu Aikins Journalist

Scott Atran Anthropologist (University of Michigan) and author of Talking to the Enemy

Rupert Talbot Chetwynd Author of Yesterday’s Enemy – Freedom Fighters or Terrorists?

Robert Abdul Hayy Darr Author of The Spy of the Heart and humanitarian aid worker in Afghanistan during the 1980s and early 1990s.

Gilles Dorronsoro Visiting Scholar (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace) and author of Revolution Unending

David B. Edwards Anthropologist (Williams College) and author of Before Taliban Jason Elliot Author of An Unexpected Light

Antonio Giustozzi Author of Koran, Kalashnikov and Laptop and editor of Decoding the New Taliban

Shah Mahmoud Hanifi Associate Professor, James Madison University

Daniel Korski Senior Policy Fellow, European Council on Foreign Relations

Felix Kuehn Kandahar-based writer/researcher, co-editor of My Life With the Taliban

Minna Jarvenpaa Former Head of Analysis and Policy Planning, UNAMA

Anatol Lieven Professor, War Studies Department of King’s College London and author of Pakistan: A Hard Country

Bob McKerrow Author of Mountains of our Minds – Afghanistan

Alessandro Monsutti Research Director, Transnational Studies/Development Studies at The Graduate Institute, Geneva

Ahmed Rashid Journalist and author of Taliban and Descent into Chaos

Nir Rosen Fellow, New York University Center on Law and Security

Gerard Russell Research Fellow, Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, Harvard University

Alex Strick van Linschoten Kandahar-based writer/researcher, co-editor of My Life With the Taliban

Astri Surkhe Senior Researcher, Chr. Michelsen Institute, Norway

Yama Torabi Co-Director, Integrity Watch Afghanistan

Jere van Dyk Author of In Afghanistan and Captive

Matt Waldman Afghanistan Analyst

Here is a link to the BBC website that gives another take on 9/11 by a man who lives close to the world Trade Centre and how it changed his life.


Protima Singh said...

thanks Bob for sharing

Unknown said...

Interesting Sir..Thanks for sharing.

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