Alessio Vinci: Reporting in Afghanistan
CNN: Alessio, the Northern Alliance interior minister said the Taliban's offer to surrender is really a political tactic. It's a way to buy time. Are you getting that sense there, or not?
VINCI: Well, not really. What we've been getting here in last couple of days, covering those talks in Mazar-e Sharif, is that yesterday we were brought to the compound where the top Northern Alliance general, Abdul Rashid, is living, and we were told that eventually there'll be some talks underway for the surrender of Konduz. That was on late Saturday.
The talks then began late last night, and then earlier today for another couple of hours, and then the Taliban leaders left without making any comments. And then Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum came out and he announced to the journalists that the Taliban had agreed to surrender Konduz. He gave us some details about how this will happen. He will send his own troops to Konduz to oversee the surrender of those Taliban forces.
He made a very clear distinction between the surrender of the Afghan Taliban, who would be given amnesty and safe passage back to their homes, and the so-called foreign fighters -- the Pakistanis, the Chechens, the Kashmiris, and the Arab fighters, who are sympathizers of Osama bin Laden and are fighting on behalf of him against the Northern Alliance.
So there is a sense here that the Northern Alliance has negotiated surrender of Konduz. But under no circumstances, they are telling us, would this be necessarily a peaceful surrender. They have tried to talk to the Mullah here in Mazar-e Sharif, and they have told us that the Mullah was in direct contact with all the fighters, including the Chechens and the Pakistanis, and they would have agreed to lay down their weapons. When we asked Gen. Dostum whether he was sure that the Taliban commanders here had direct contact with them, he said, "Yes, I have received those kind of assurances."
So Rashid and the Northern Alliance here are very much sure that this will happen. However, they are going on Saturday to Konduz to oversee that surrender with 5,000 troops. And they are very much ready to begin fighting, if it is necessary, and all the Northern Alliance commanders here -- including the politicians, not just the military people -- are telling us here that all those people who will not surrender in Konduz will be killed. There would be a firefight, and they will eventually be eliminated. So they are going to Konduz with the intention to a peaceful surrender, but if there is a need to fight, they will fight for that.
CNN: What's it like reporting there?
VINCI: Unlike my other friends here on this program, I have not witnessed any fighting so far here in Afghanistan. I have been mainly reporting here from Mazar-e Sharif after the town was taken by the Northern Alliance.
What I'll share is more of a logistical challenge, if you will. We came here to Mazar-e Sharif, to northern Afghanistan, following a humanitarian convoy from Uzbekistan. We were supposed to take a day trip with a boat and a barge that were provided to us by the Uzbek government. And once we arrived here in Afghanistan, my cameramen and myself had decided to actually remain here in the northern Afghanistan and not take the ride back.
The result of that was, of course, that we were not prepared to stay here. We're still wearing the same clothes as a week ago. We are mainly running our equipment on batteries. We have this videophone from which I'm talking to you. but we have no editing equipment. We have none of the beautiful equipment that usually we can use in order to make our life a little bit easier.
So, it is, of course, very difficult to stay tuned to covering this action. We don't speak the language here. If you imagine, for example, yesterday, the talks we were covering here in Mazar-e Sharif -- the two sides were speaking two different languages. We had Abdul Rashid Dostum speaking the Dari language, and the Taliban commanders were speaking the Pashtun language, and all these being translated by a nonprofessional translator into English.
All this put together makes our day extremely long and extremely difficult. Then we arrived here back at the hotel, around 6:00 or 7:00 in the evening. Two hours later, there was a curfew, which means we cannot go out and have dinner. So all this put together makes this assignment extremely difficult, but also very exciting.
CNN: What's the thing, Alessio, that struck you most about being in Mazar-e Sharif?
VINCI: Well, I think, so far, it's that wherever we point the camera, we see an incredible picture. From the mosque where we had witnessed an incredible sunset the very first night we came here; to the people's faces. We went to a market, we went to a school. We went to see the people's faces, really -- and you can almost see 20 years of war. Really, they have scarred eyes that have really experienced this kind of a hardship that this country has being going through for the last 20 years.
Another thing that really struck me very much is when we visited prisoners of the war taken by the Northern Alliance -- mainly, Pakistani people. I was really expecting to see a lot more fierce people, people who were a lot more defiant. What we met there were about 40 or 45 prisoners of war kept inside the containers; when those people came out from their container, they really looked like they were very afraid, very scared -- and this is not the kind of fighters that we have been reporting about, especially from the battlefront.
We have being reporting about diehard fighters, ready to die, instead of being captured alive by the Northern Alliance. But those people there, locked in that container, really -- this is perhaps the most memorable moment that I had here in northern Afghanistan, to see those people going from being the fiercest fighters in this country to prisoners of war being extremely scared and not knowing if they would ever be able to make it back home.