Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

War and Peace

Flash from the Past: … but not without snow

Kate Clark 5 min

Ten years ago, AAN’s senior analyst Kate Clark was reporting on the first snow of the 2000/2001 winter for the BBC from Kabul which, then, was still ruled by the Taleban; people then were hoping a horrific drought would finally be breaking. An estimated twelve million Afghans had been hit by crop failure, many were hungry and many had been driven from their homes. Below, after today’s weather report, is her radio script from 7 December 2000. And Thomas Ruttig, another of AAN’s senior analysts , has another short one to add.

It is finally snowing in Kabul for the first time this winter. The snow melted as it fell in the city, but has been settling on the mountains all around, finally clearly the choking smog which has got even worse since AAN first reported on it in November. Weather forecasters are promising four days of ‘heavy snow’. A partial round up of the rest of Afghanistan shows much of the country getting its first snow this winter too: 10cm fell in Herat, 15cm in Badghis and in the districts of Ghor, a massive 50 cm. Gardez has had 5-10 cm and the snow is still falling, as it is in Badakhshan. Kunar has had rain; Laghman and Jalalabad only cloud. But in Hazarajat, the mountains are finally properly covered with snow. With rising global food prices, Afghanistan needs all the snow it get because, as the Afghan saying goes, ‘Kabul can be without gold but not without snow’.


Flash to the 7 December 2000 script:

INTRODUCTION: It’s snowing in many parts of Afghanistan. The capital, Kabul, has seen the first snow of the winter. For a country hit by severe drought, it’s been a day of celebration. An estimated twelve million Afghans have been hit by drought-related crop failure this year. Many are hungry. Good snow fall is the most critical factor in producing a good harvest next year. From Kabul, Kate Clark reports.

KC: I’m in downtown Kabul. It’s been snowing for hours but it’s that sort of wet snow that melts when it hits the ground. The mountains that come round Kabul are covered in mist. And it’s a really filthy, cold, wet, damp day. But everyone here is delighted. They’ve been celebrating because it’s the first snow of the winter.

Sound of Mohammad Bashir, then AFP correspondent, now with the BBC Persian and Pashto Service in London, singing, then laughing.

Vox pops

We’re happy with the snow because after a long time we have seen again the snow here in Afghanistan. And we take it as a sign of the ending of the misery in Afghanistan due to the drought. The weather is very nice. Everybody happy and the children are playing.
Mir Ahmad Joyanda [MP for Kabul, 2005-10]

It’s good – snow and rain are always good. What else is there to say?

I was up about three o clock to eat breakfast before the Ramadan fast and saw that it was snowing – and it’s still snowing. They’ll be a lot of water for the plants in the spring. I’m a gardener and the snow’s very good. Everything has been so very dry this year.
Bashi (gardener at the BBC bureau)

KC: Aid workers are also celebrating. They’ve managed to get just about enough food into drought-stricken areas before snow blocks the passes for the rest of the winter. But snow is crucial to next year’s harvest. It acts as a reservoir, melting gradually all the way through the growing season. Last year, the snows failed and there was widespread crop failure. Peter Goosens(*) is the deputy director of the World Food Programme in Afghanistan.

GOOSENS It was raining when I woke up and then that converted into snow. And it is really snow that is very critical for this country. I was really very happy. It can be raining as much as it can, but rain doesn’t really store very well. It is the snow that will determine ultimately what happens next year. Obviously, the harvest is proportional to how much water is available.

Sounds of UN radio operator asking about the weather in different parts of Afghanistan, radio static and noise as he changes frequency

KC: In a country with no phones, it’s difficult to find out what’s happening even fifty kilometres away. So I asked the United Nations radio operator how the rest of the country was fairing.

KC: You were speaking to people in Yakowlang which is right in the middle of Afghanistan up in the mountains and they had snow?

Yeah, they said it’s snowing right now. They said the snow is about eight to ten centimetres and in Panjab [also in Bamian province] it’s more than fifty centimetres.

Sound of Muhammad Bashir singing in Persian and translating the song into English
Oh beautiful snow! fall and settle on the beautiful Kabul girl, rest gently on her hair.

KC: The first snowfall of the year is a time for celebration and a day when you try to trick friends into giving you a party. I asked Muhammad Bashir, correspondent for the French News Agency here in Kabul to explain.

BASHIR You take some snow whether in an envelope or anything to conceal it and then you take it to the recipient’s house and you try to chose anybody whom you can trick and give it to them. If they take it inside, then you have won the party and they have lost.

KC And if they catch you?

BASHIR: If they catch you, then you get a symbolic beating, humiliation, they may blacken your face and you are the loser.

KC And this morning, you managed to give a packet of snow to my gardener. And I think I’m not responsible for him. I didn’t get a chance to refuse that package. And when I saw the packet I rejected it.

BASHIR: It’s a collective game, it’s not individual. The whole family, the whole office was aimed and intended. BBC was the target. We chose the gardener because we thought he was an innocent guy. We deliberately chose him and that’s why you lost and you have to give us the party.**

KC: It’s an excuse to throw a party in the middle of winter. And it’s particularly welcome this year. It’s a bleak time for Afghans – struck by drought, war and now threats of new United Nations sanctions. People can celebrate for one day. But the country needs more snow – lots of it – if the harvest at least is to be better next year.(**)



Thomas Ruttig, another of AAN’s senior analysts who was with the UN then, remembers another story from that day:

Taleban leader Mulla Muhammad Omar had been on the radio a few days earlier requesting all Muslims in Afghanistan to go out and pray for snow. As we later heard, he had been informed by one of his colleagues who operated one or the only internet-connected computers in the country (in the foreign ministry) that the weather forecast on the BBc website had announced snow within the next three days. Omar planned to pull another of his dreams and miracles.

But the story about the BBC weather forecast was soon circulating in Kabul’s streets.

(*) A usually particularly unemotional Dutchman, he laughed delightedly all the way through the interview.

(**) Unfortunately, 2001 to be another dry year.


Kabul Taleban