Dushanbe- I got the boot from the local police in Osh for taking an undesirable photo of ethnic cleansing graffiti being whitewashed over in time for UNHCR head Antonio Guterres’ visit to the wrecked city. The official reasoning was that I did not have a Kyrgyz press accreditation. While the Osh police did their best to give me the bum’s rush out of town, there was no indication upon my departure at Manas airport en route to Dushanbe that I was no longer welcome in the Kyrgyz Republic. I heard from a World Food Programme official on the flight back to Bishkek that the one and only Frederick Rousseau, the French Khan of ACTED in Central Asia with a Napoleon complex on steroids, made a scene when Guterres held a press conference at the Osh airport.
I’ve returned to Dushanbe for the first time since my whirlwind visit in October of 2001 after the United States air force began launching air strikes across northern Afghanistan and this town was, for a very brief period, the place to be in the international scene. I’m sitting typing this post in the once dilapidated Soviet hulk known as the Hotel Tajikistan. In the fall of 2001, it was the center of the action, really buzzing with journos and NGOs trying to figure out how to get in Afghanistan on clap trap Mi-8s who’s price for a seat was going up by the day. A few things have changed since then. This hotel was renovated a few years ago with a serious facelift, the room price more than tripled, and it’s eerily quiet. Tajikistan now mans its own southern border and the Russian 201st Motor Rifle Division is long gone from the Afghan border, and French forces who arrived in December 2001-January 2002 at that critical juncture are now entrenched at the airport here with their Transall C-160’s parked comfortably there from where they supply their contingents in Kabul and Kapisa Province.