What price a free press?

David Kline April 21 1980

What price a free press?

David Kline April 21 1980

What price a free press?

"You're not a journalist are you?" "Of course not!" I told the chief of the Afghan consulate in Peshawar. I handed him a hastily printed "business card" representing my occupation as that of an importer of textiles. That, essentially, is how one gets a visa to go to Kabul or the other Soviet-occupied cities of Afghanistan. Since journalists are banned, except those sycophants from Eastern European coun tries, you have to do your reporting clan destinely. And in Kabul that is no easy task.

David Kline

Photography, even by tourists, is strictly banned. Anyone caught with a camera by the Afghan or Soviet security forces is likely to spend a couple of days in jail—or at least as long as it takes them to get him on the next plane out of the country. One way to get around that ban is to take a room in a hotel along one of the main streets in the city. In this way pictures can be taken of the flow of traffic, and traffic in Kabul these days is full of Soviet armor, jeeps and troop transports.

The choice of hotels is important, too. Even if a visitor has a valid entry visa, as I had, any Westerner checking into a major hotel like the Intercontinental is immediately placed under house arrest until the next plane leaves. No phone calls, no visitors and no sending messages to one’s

own embassy for assistance.

The best bet, you might think, would be to stay with one of the handful of Westerners still working in Kabul. I tried that, but one American explained: he had to live there and I didn't. It was just too dangerous to let me stay in his home—too dangerous for him. I could understand that. Then he said that he would pray for me—and that’s when I started chewing Rolaids.

I look around Kabul and see a city under the gun: tanks, helicopters, police, troops, fear. A city that has been swallowed whole by an awesome aggression. And my mind jerks back to a time before I was born—a time I’ve only read and heard about. It’s Paris in 1940. It’s Warsaw in 1939, it's Czechslovakia and it’s all the nations that fell under Hitler’s onslaught.

Some might think this train of thought alarmist. I should point out though that, as a journalist, I have been to Cambodia, Iran, Afghanistan and China. Turmoil, war and revolution do not surprise or necessarily alarm me. But what I see in Kabul is different.

There’s a hunger, it seems, and a ruthless arrogance among the Soviet occupation forces. Their presence in this formerly sovereign nation—a nation that possesses no great natural resources—poses many questions for the world:

Will it help these people as it should have helped the victims of Hitler in the 1930s?

Is the invasion of Afghanistan the first shot in what may be a Third World War?

And if so, will the world again be afraid to see it for what it is?

To tell the truth, I was glad to get out of

Kabul