Kabul – The Americans and the Indonesians

Crushed Kalashnikov

Crushed Kalashnikov

The US embassy has a very special program today, to celebrate the destructions of more than one million small arms or light weapons worldwide. That is to show to a bunch of Afghan journalists from selected media of how an AK-47 arm is being destroyed by their Ambassador. So important that the program is, a limited number of the selected media have to come an hour earlier and being scrutinized thoroughly before being able to cover the speech of the Ambassador (which last only for 6 minutes, compact and short, no Q&A session that a female reporter complained the program to be very bland), people from disarmament organization, followed by a demonstration of the Ambassador destroying a Kalashnikov being turned to pieces by an unforgiving drill machine box.

Kalashnikov, the Russian branded automatic rifles, had been invented more than sixty years ago (1943), and the AK-47 has the reputation as one of the most reliable rifles. There were already 100 million of Kalashnikov weapons produced worldwide, said the ambassador. The crushing of an AK-47 by his highness American ambassador was in fact a symbolic ceremonial of U.S. government commitment to destroy excess small arms worldwide. From the press release given by the embassy, since 2001 US-funded programs have eliminated over 90 million pieces of ammunition in 25 countries: from Asia (Afghanistan, Cambodia, Philippines, Tajikistan), Africa (Angola, Congo, Guinea, Liberia, Lesotho, Mozambique, Senegal, Sudan), Europe (Albania, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Serbia), and Central and Latin Americas. Luckily Indonesia was not on the list. Maybe it was because our fellow countryman fighters were not up to Kalashnikov and preferred Made-in-USA weapons instead.

The first two paragraphs were actually cliché and obvious. What I want to write here is actually the experience of being in the embassy itself. The image of American embassies in many countries is always kind of a high profile fort securing itself from enemies which are scattered on every inch of dirt and dust outside the compound. The image is indeed true for American embassy in Kabul. High-profile security is felt around the embassy area; just as if it is a main terrorist target (I bet it is). The embassy is located in sensitive area, neighboring high-profile offices like USAID, US Army Headquarters, and some European embassies. For sure the American embassy is not the convenient-to-drop-by place for its citizens to have free meals, tennis matches, karaoke nights, and billiard games (while an embassy of one other country, is).

The road which passes through the embassy gate is closed to public traffic and only pedestrians are allowed to walk through. The installed thick barricades scattering along the road, the patrolling Afghan guards communicating by their radio, big signs saying: NO PHOTOGRAPHY, VIOLATORS WILL BE APPREHENDED, and invisible cameras to control your every single step, should be your last reminders that you, together with the embassy, are in the most sensitive target of attack in the frontline of a country on fire.

Busy Mongoloid-faced short soldiers, wrapped in Dalmatian uniforms and equipped with anti bullet vest, are patrolling through the barricades while grumbling with the handy talkies in accented English. The American embassy is of course not a go-show place for coverage. A prior arrangement was made and my name was put in the list, which was my only ticket to enter the gate.

There are already all others invited Afghan reporters, not more than 10 people, behind the concrete gate. We are all lined next to the wall, to wait for the clearance before being allowed to enter the arena. The Mongoloid-faced soldiers are everywhere. They speak each other in funny English mixed with Nepali words. Yes, they are the Ghurkas, from the Mongoloid ethnics of Ghurung and Tamang from mountainous villages in Nepal. Then come two black men with two big dogs. I remember one of the dogs is named Blinkley, but I didn’t remember any names of the black men bringing the dogs. The men are friendly though, ask us to keep our bags in one side and go to the other side. All inside the bag should be taken out. Cameras and video cameras should be shown that they are working properly (not a disguised bomb, for example) and then the dogs will smell around our equipment to check whether there is something ‘not good enough’ to be taken inside. The clearance of our cameras, microphones, and stuff, is done by the help of these powerful dogs. My Afghan colleague shows his disgust when the microphone is smelled by cheerful looking dogs.

The two African men, one or both of them from Zimbabwe, then report to a lady, look-like someone with a high rank or this event organizer. The lady, in friendly tones, then explains that all reporters should make note of the Ambassador speech as script will not be distributed. The lady also reminds that there is no question allowed, as this is not a conference. She then plays with the big dogs and asks the Africans about the dog stuff. Then we follow her going inside.

Are we already in the embassy compound now?
No. Not yet. Not that easy.
We have to pass another post to enter the embassy. Dog clearance finished. So what’s next? Of course, the modern X-ray scan!
The post, looks at least 2 centuries more modern than any buildings in Afghan Ministry of Interior complex, has a door which can be opened from inside but not from outside. One by one of us are asked to get in. The others have to wait outside, just like new graduates lining before an office for a job interview.

Inside, our ID is exchanged with the American Embassy Visitor Card. This thick hologram card is valid only for one day, with the date of today printed (do they print the cards everyday?), and numbered. My number is 55. My friend says, “You are prisoner number 55. I am number 54!”.
Satire joke.

Then our bags are scan with X-ray machine and we, one by one, have to pass a metal-detector gate. Not only us who have to follow these procedures. The men working for the American embassy also have to pass the metal detector gate as well. After everybody is cleared, the lady leads us to go to the park outside the main office building of the embassy. We passed through several orange apartments (probably residential area) which made me impressed by the modernity and complexity of this embassy compound.

The Americans have arranged the podium with many considerations, like the shadow, background, sunshine, as well as no reporters should be able to film or photograph the main embassy building. They are very careful and detail. The US, a cosmopolitan country, has it represented well in their embassy staff. Not only those Nepali Ghurka soldiers and Zimbabwean dog keepers, the officers of the embassy also consist of people from Afghan and Japanese origin.

The American embassy with all of its strict procedures of security, for sure, is not comparable to our beloved Indonesian embassy. Our embassy is located just next to the street, next to the Indian embassy. The embassy of the Republic of Indonesia is walled with a concrete gate which is not difficult to climb due to its artistic texture. Just recently, after arrival of the Mr. Ambassador and under his order, they installed circular thorn wire topping the gate to provide better protection.

The office of Indonesian embassy is just next to the street behind that wall. One diplomat friend once said, “Every day working here makes my heart ‘dag-dig-dug’ all the time. If someone throw ’something’ (you know what thing) here, what it will be?” His office is just exactly next to the busy pedestrian street in the New City, on walking distance from the Ministry of Interior, in front of which last year a bomb blasted and killed some.

The new Indonesian Ambassador told me that the construction of embassy office just next to the road was indeed against the basic security requirements. He said the embassy building should be at least further than how far someone can throw stone from the street. If it is stone, it’s still OK. But how if it’s a bomb thrown here?

“You should write about this,” said our Ambassador, “so they know and concern about safety. If I say to them, as my background is military, they will ridicule me why I should be afraid of this kind of risk. We believe that our embassy is not target of attacks as we befriend with anybody, but it’s not matter of afraid or not. Minimum safety precaution should be considered as well, am I right?”

The Indonesian Embassy in Kabul

The relaxed Indonesian Embassy in Kabul

I remember a Malaysian friend of mine who succeeded to enter the Indonesian embassy last year without even asked to show her passport or any ID. She said to me, “Your embassy is very open!”

That’s maybe what differ us from the Americans, or even from the Malaysians. We are open. And it’s our unique fortune if most Indonesians staying in Afghanistan may claim the embassy as our comfortable second home.

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