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Afghanistan's Shadowlands
Afghanistan's Internet?: An Afghan boy in front of a typically well-fortified Pashtun compound. Author and photographer Robert Young Pelton found that children are often used to spread information between tribal groups.

"This is near Gardez, in eastern Afghanistan, early in the morning, after the first snowfall of the season in December of last year. The amazing thing about this photograph is that it shows that no matter where you go in this seemingly desolate and forbidding landscape, strangers are not only aware of you but quickly gather to talk and stare at you.

"One of the focuses of my story 'Into the Land of bin Laden' was to learn how strangers can move around in the tribal areas undetected. The answer is you can't. Every tiny movement by car, foot, truck or even plane is noted, observed. My presence was known before I even came here. The main difference was that people knew I was with tribal elder Hajji, so I was welcomed and unmolested.

"When there was an A10 attack on a compound nearby that resulted in the death of a family, everyone knew within hours. How? The kids are used like a telegraph line. People stop each other on the road and pass on the news. Locals chat in teahouses and within hours the news is everywhere. They have no TV but they also listen to the BBC and other short-wave broadcasts in Pashto and Dari.

"I learned a lesson by getting up that early to take pictures: There is a secret 'Internet' in the tribal areas that makes it hard to sneak up on anyone, including bin Laden. But if they don't want you there it could also work the other way."

—Writer-Photographer Robert Young Pelton

Photo by Robert Young Pelton

April 2004

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