Wednesday, November 28, 2007

TALIBANS LATEST HOBBY IN PAKISTAN: STONING THE BUDDHA

Pakistani taliban in the Swat-area have a new pastime: Throwing rocks and dead birds at one of the last remaining Buddha statues in a village called Barikot.

You surely remember the Islamist' rage and threats against the pope, the Danish cartoons, Egyptian writers, Iranian ex-muslims and - only this week - against a Bangladeshi feminist writer in India and a British teacher in Sudan after her pupils named a teddy bear Muhammad.

So Islamists themselves would never ever insult other religions - right?

Well, wrong.

I recently travelled through Northern Pakistan, where the Pakistani taliban has taken over large parts of the Swat- and Shangla-area's. The latest fashion here is: Stoning the Buddha with rocks, empty packs of cigarettes and, believe it or not, dead birds.

It is all happening close to the village of Barikot, right along the main road between Malakand (Thana) and Swat (Mingora). The statue is about three meters high and carved out of a rock. As you can see on the picture, the Pakistani authorities have placed - a long time ago - an iron fence around the Buddha to protect the rock carving. By the way, most parts of the Buddha have been destroyed by the locals through the years. Because, in this part of Pakistan, have no illusions; even before the arrival of the taliban, the people here (rather fanatical Sunni muslims) consider statues to be blasphemous.

Ever since the taliban has taken over the area (a couple of weeks ago) all worldly things have been banned. No TV, schools closed, music and dvd's banned. Basically, the only thing left to do in the area is throwing stones at a statue of the Buddha, which many local people consider to be Satan.

Until the year 1000 A.D. northern Pakistan, and parts of Afghanistan, were major Buddhist centers. The tirangle Islamabad-Peshawar-Swat is where the Gandhara era flourished. But the arrival of Islam has, more or less, destroyed most of it. Afghan taliban, in 2001, blew up the giant Buddha's of Bamyan. Recently, at least three Buddha statues in the Swat area were blown to pieces by the Pakistani taliban.

People from the Swat valley specially drive to Barikot to stone the Buddha. While I was there, a man in a car (from Kalam, in Swat) and his three children (of course sons; girls and women are not allowed to leave their houses anymore) visited the Buddha. In very much a picknic atmosphere, he explained that local people view the Buddha as un-Islamic and, thus, as a devil, as Satan. Throwing stones at it, he said, was a popular pastime.

I could see around thirty rocks, one dead bird and one empty pack of cigarettes laying in front of the poor Buddha. All of this had been previously thrown at the statue in a ceremony that, very much, resembles the stoning of the devil (stoning of the jamarat) by muslim pilgrims during the Hajj in Mina, close to Mecca.

The man with the three children (see pic), obviously, was a Taliban supporter. "We need the full implementation of the shariah [Islamic law] here," he said. "It is a shame," he continued, "That nobody gets hanged anymore after they commit a crime. Luckily the taliban is correcting that."

Most Pakistanis I spoke to (normal muslims, not loony Islamists stuck in puberty), were appalled by the stoning of the Buddha. "These people are just so primitive," one man told me. Another described them as behenchod - which basically means: Sisterfuckers. My translator asked me for a print of the Buddha picture so he could show it to his father. "Shameful behaviour by these taliban," he added.

Harald Doornbos

Monday, November 26, 2007

BEIRUT BY NIGHT...

14th of March, 8th of March. President this, no, president that. I really don't understand why the Lebanese want any of it.

I never ever hear a Lebanese politician talking about fighting poverty in the country. Or battling unemployment. What a about a minimum wage for workers? Or it might be a good idea to force the two phone companies to abandon their outrages - no, criminal - rates of 0.5 dollar a minute which is crippling already poor people. Or what about the endless power cuts (between 3 and 8 hours a day now and it is only getting worse)? Since a couple of days, there's even trouble with the water supply in most parts of Beirut.

But no, the only thing in the mind of Lebanese politicians is the defense of either American-, Saudi-, Syrian- or Iranian interests. It is kind of shameful these Lebanese politicians even dare to call themselves Lebanese... (and don't worry, they all have second passports of various countries).

Yesterday I received an email from a friend which sums it all up. While many places in the world look beautiful by night, please take a look at romantic Beirut.

PARIS BY NIGHT:


Singapore by night:


Amsterdam by night:


Beirut by night:


Harald Doornbos

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

EXCLUSIVE TO HARRYZZZ READERS: BUY A PAKISTANI MADE THE HUNTING PARTY DVD FOR 5 EURO'S

I've been kind of dying to see the movie The Hunting Party (people who have read this blog before know the reason...).

So during my stay in Pakistan I walked into this CD/DVD store in Islamabad.

Do you have a copy of this movie The Hunting Party? - I asked.

Yes, came in last week - the salesman said.

Great, I told him. How much?

100 Rupees.

Even better, I thought. A little over 1 euro!

They still had two copies. I bought both of course (see pic).

As the movie came out in September this year and did pretty badly in the US, I'm hereby taking orders from Harryzzz readers to get your own Islamabad-made copy of The Hunting Party. 5 euros a DVD!

Beware though: It is an illegal copy, made by some guy (somewhere in the world) who took his little camera into the cinema. So, yes, you hear the audiance laughing every now and then. An at around 45 minutes into the movie some kind of tall guy moves into the seat in front of our cameraman. And yes, the rest of the movie you see a part of a human head on the left bottom of your screen. The overall quality of the movie is kind of crappy.

Why do these kind of illegal DVD's appear in countries like Pakistan (Really, every movie, ever made is for sale in Pakistan for 100 rupees a piece)? Well, there is no way that a Pakistani can and will pay 40 euros for an original DVD. And watching the movie in the cinema is no option anymore because the only cinema in Islamabad was burnt down, three years ago, by Taliban militants.

(Some additional info. I was wrong claiming there isn't any cinema left in Islamabad. Stupid mistake. A friend from Pakistan informed me there actually still are two cinema's operating in Islamabad - called the Twin Cinema's in the F6/1 area. The Melody cinema was burnt down by sunni radicals (I was actually there when it happened.)

Pakistan zindabad!

Harald Doornbos

Sunday, November 18, 2007

COMPARING PAKISTAN AND DUBAI

Short observation. I travelled today from Islamabad in Pakistan to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

A weird experience.

Because in Pakistan, a terrible political crisis because president Musharraf has declared emergency rule. Demonstrations of lawyers, students and journalists. Anger about the media-blackout. American diplomats harshly criticizing president Musharraf for blocking TV stations. And one of the opposition leaders, Benazir Bhutto, creating drama after drama in front of the word's cameras. Well, I'm a journalist, so I naturally support demonstrating journalists.

But to call the current situation in Pakistan a full media blackout is utterly silly, to say the least. Yes, a couple of television stations have been taken off air, but many TV stations are back on (also the critical ones) and the print media have never been blocked or censored at all since the introduction of emergency rule.

Compare that to Dubai, where I'm now. All business as usual - happy money hungry people. Indians, Pakistanis, Arabs, Americans, Europeans. No protesting journalists here (the media is totally censored, basically no criticism has ever been allowed ). TV channels stuffed with action movies, papers full of 'man rescues cat'-stories. Yep, great place.

So here no demonstrating journalists, no screaming opposition leader (there is no opposition in Dubai) and no angry American or European diplomats (the diplomats here are way too busy playing golf..).

Of course, Pakistani democracy might be in danger. But with a literacy rate of only 37 percent, 74 percent of the population making only 1.5 euro a day and 42 religiously inspired suicide bombers killing hundreds of innocent people this year, Pakistan might have bigger problems on its hands than a couple of TV stations going black.

Emergency is, indeed, terrible for the 25.000 or so Haves in Pakistan, but most of the remaining 159.975.000 Have Not's would choose a humane life over voting once every four years in a democracy that has never functioned and never delivered.

Harald Doornbos

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

CURFEW LIFTED, ARMY MASSING AT KABAL

Ok, this might be way too much detailed information for most readers, but the curfew in the Malakand and the Mingora-area was lifted at noon, Pakistan time, on Wednesday.

The Pakistan army is massing its troops in the village of Kabal, west of Mingora. According to good sources, there are around 10.000 army troops. And, believe it or not, they are based at a golf course (yes, only a year ago, the Swat area was a very popular tourist destination in Pakistan). So except for heavy artillery, helicopter gunships and machine guns, the pak army might use golf balls!

In the mean time, Pakistan Taliban militants loyal to Maulana Fazlullah have captured a place called Alpuri, in the Shangla district. This is very dangerous, since the militants are getting now very close to the Karakoram Highway. This is the one and only land connection between Western-China and Pakistan, heavily used by Chinese- and Pakistani businesses. The capture of parts of the Karakoram highway would be a major, and i repeat, a major blow for Musharraf. No way ever, will Musharraf let this happen, since it would cripple Pakistan economically.

The talibanisation of northern Pakistan is still going on, if Musharraf and his army do not respond quickly a rather limited rebellion might get really out of control and spill over into eastern area's.

By the way - if all these names are abracadabra to you, please search on the web for a detailed map of northern Pakistan, Swat area. You might wanna use this, zoom in on greater Mingora-area. Golfcourse is bit west of Mingora. Militants are basically between Mingora and Kalam, around 100 kms north. Karakoram highway a little bit to the east (at Besham).

And don't underestimate the importance of this islamic insurgency - the future of Pakistan depends on it.

Harald Doornbos

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

HARRYZZZ EXCLUSIVE: PAKISTAN ARMY OPERATION TO LIBERATE SWAT-AREA IMMINENT

It's been silent at harryzzz for a couple of days. Good reason for that. I just came back from Malakand/Swat, semi-tribal area in Pakistan (east of Peshawar).

The Swat-area was recently captured by local Taliban. Since two months the central government has been overthrown, police and para-military forces kidnapped, killed or kicked out by local Taliban.

The deteriorating security situation in the Swat-region was one of the main reasons for president Pervez Musharrafs' declaration of emergency rule (another reason was of course the high courts refusing to confirm Musharraf's election, by parliament, as president)

But things are about to change in Swat. The army is moving in and army units already based there are preparing to go on the offensive against local Taliban forces. On Tuesday evening, an indefinite curfew was announced for Malakand and Swat. The curfew went in effect at Tuesday 24.00 hr local time.

This of course gives the army a free hand to move around and perform operations against the militants, who have beheaded Pakistani police, scouts and rangers. The army though is very different from those local forces. Pakistan Army is very professional and capable of going into a conflict 'the hard way'.

I saw on Tuesday army helicopters flying over the area, especially close to the house/madrassa of Mullah Fazlullah, the leader of the local Taliban here. Police stations south/east of Mingora-city where either abandoned or reinforced with extra troops, sandbags on the roofs and armoured vehicles. It wasn't possible to go further than Mingora, this because of Taliban checkpoints on the road between Mingora and Kalam, 100 kms north.

Fazlullah's village was, on Tuesday, almost completely empty. Locals have left, fearing an attack. Mullah Fazlullah's illegal radio station has been off air since four days, apparently blocked by the authorities.

On my way back from Swat to Islamabad, several jeeps with Pakistani soldiers. Army helicopters flying high in the sky.

With president Musharraf having sweeping powers due to declaring 'emergency' on November 3rd, it seems the Talibanisation of Pakistan will be stopped soon - especially in the Swat area.

Harald Doornbos

Friday, November 09, 2007

BENAZIR AT HOME, RAWALPINDI SEALED OFF, HARRYZZZ HIT BY STONE

With Benazir Bhutto placed under house arrest on Friday (according to latest report will be lifted again tomorrow, Saturday) and Rawalpindi almost entirely sealed off by 9.000 policemen,the anti-Musharraf opposition had no chance to massively protest. Smart move by Musharraf, but very discouraging for the opposition.

After a visit to the surrounded Bhutto residency in Islamabad, Harryzzz though managed to sneak into Rawalpindi (using a labyrinth of very small roads that weren't blocked and by walking some distance) and hang out with the police and a couple of hundreds of demonstrators who also managed to get in.

99 percent of Rawalpindi was just deserted and quiet, but at one place, close to the park where Bhutto was suppose to hold a speech, pretty heavy rioting between cops and demonstrators.

Unfortunately I was hit by a stone (thrown by the police). And it literally hit me about ten centimeters from a very sensitive male spot. So my right upper leg hurts a bit, which is of course much better than having a high pitched voice the rest of your life...

Here some pics I made today:

Bhutto residency under siege:


Innocent passerby with goat send away by police near to Bhutto residency:


Trucks and police block all roads in and around Rawalpindi:


The PPP slogan of the day: "Musharraf is a dog!"


After having thrown stones, a Bhutto supporter gets seriously beaten up by Pakistani cops and an undercover policeman:


Bhutto supporters ready to face the police:


Stones and rocks thrown at the police:

Thursday, November 08, 2007

ON EVE OF CERTAIN CONFRONTATION, PAKISTAN SET FOR IRAN 1979-SCENARIO?

Prepare yourself for big riots in Rawalpindi, near Islamabad, on Friday. Supporters of Benazir Bhutto will defy a ban on public gatherings there. And since the protests will start right after Friday prayer, there is a very big chance religious right wingers will join in.

Just to be clear; Bhutto's PPP-party is a, more or less, left leaning, secular party. The Islamists are extreme right wingers, trying to establish Sharia law in Pakistan. Both sides, again more or less, work together these days because of their common hatred towards president Pervez Musharraf. It all smells a little like Iran in 1979 on the eve of the fall of the American backed Shah and the start of the Shi'ite Islamic revolution.

What many, especially secular demonstrators, do not seem to realize is this: What if Musharraf is ousted? What then?!

Compare it to three people fighting for one chair.

At the moment, Musharraf sits on it. But two other persons - who formed an alliance -really would like to kick his butt and take over his seat. Let's assume Musharraf's butt is indeed kicked. What will follow is a fight between the two others, because - hey - there is only one chair and one seat available.

We've seen this before in Iran 1979. Secular left and Islamic extreme right together against the shah. And after his fall, the secular leftists were wiped out by the islamists. 28 years later, they still run the show in Iran.

In Pakistan too, there is only one chair. And although secular Islam can count on my support, they have no chance of winning the battle with the islamists, who have shown - over and over again - to be extremely ruthless in dealing with an enemy they consider anti-Islamic.

Anyhow, on the eve of this almost certain violent confrontation between Musharraf's police and anti-Musharraf protesters, just enough time to post two innocent pictures from Pakistan.

The first one I took today, in Rawalpindi (with mobile phone) and shows how the Pakistani police deals with parking violators. Hilarious but effective! Will they use this tomorrow as well to remove demonstrators? Who knows...


I took this second pic some days ago, while aboard a PIA plane travelling from Karachi to Islamabad. It´s around 05.20 in the morning, we just took off. It is praying time. Old man walks up to the stewardess, asks if he can role out his prayer rug. No problem, she says. He starts praying next to the front door. I took the pic from my seat. Just to be clear: We were 10 kms up in the air of course. Pretty cute actually. Only in Pakistan!


Harald Doornbos

IN PAKISTAN, THERE IS TENSION (AND A LITTLE BIT OF TEARGAS) IN THE AIR

Situation here in Paki 'martial law' stan is still rather normal. Daily life continues uninterruptedly.

But after Benazir Bhutto's announcement of street protests for tomorrow (Friday) against Musharraf and possibly a Long March on the 13Th (next Tuesday) you can feel the tension is rising in this country.

On Wednesday I attended Benazir Bhutto's press conference, in a garden in front of a villa, in Islamabad. Here she strongly denied any rumours of a meeting between her and president Musharraf. She also announced the street protests.

This was the first time ever I saw Benazir Bhutto live (see picture, above on the right, I made of her). It is always interesting to to be around a living legend and - after the Karachi bomb attacks which killed 139 - live to tell the story. As she announced her Long March against Musharraf, I got this feeling: Hey, this might be history in the making. Because clearly, if she and her followers go for massive protests, today's Pakistan might be very much different from tomorrows'.

Bhutto is clearly adored by her followers. BB in the West might stand for Brigitte Bardot, in Pakistan BB means Benazir Bhutto. During her speech, fans and party members kept on interrupting her by shouting slogans like Long live Benazir . This even led to some annoyance among Bhutto's personal assistants.

"Shut up, it's enough now," one of them yelled at a supporter as he, again, wanted to raise the slogan "Long Live Benazir."

After the press conference, around 250 BB-supporters walked to the presidential palace, around 500 meters down the road. Riot police stood by and watched. Everything was more or less calm, until some Bhutto-supporters started to attack the cops. The policemen got their bamboo-sticks ready, hit a few people and made some arrests during minor scuffles.

At one point demonstrators pushed an iron barricade into the police lines. The cops pushed it back. Followed by the demonstrators who pushed the thing back towards the police. This was getting a little bit silly, as it looked very much like a rope pulling contest. I even could see some policemen smiling while pushing the barrier back towards the protesters (and getting the thing back five seconds later of course).

The cops then fired some five rounds of teargas over the crowd. As I stood right between the police and the protesters, the teargas did not effect me much. But it created white clouds as the sun set in Islamabad.

Until now, this country has not seen any serious protests. This of course can change tomorrow (Friday), as the first Bhutto demonstration will start in Rawalpindi, around 15 km's from Islamabad and the place where Musharraf lives. Since it will start after Friday prayer, there is a rather big chance religious right wingers might join hands with BB.

On Friday, everything will depend on the turnout. A couple of thousand and some minor riots - no worries for Musharraf. But in case tens of thousands of demonstrators show up and massive disturbances take place, Musharraf might have to seriously start to worry about his own position.

Let's wait till Friday.

Harald Doornbos

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

IN ISLAMABAD, MORE NORMALITY THAN EMERGENCY

It is already pretty late here in Islamabad, so have to keep it short.

But the situation in Islamabad and Rawalpindi (the places where I've been today) is actually rather different than most media reports suggest. Emergency rule in Musharraf's Pakistan isn't some kind of Pinochet- or Burma-style crackdown on the opposition.

Well, what is it?

Let me tell you what I saw today.

- At Karachi airport - everything entirely normal. Nobody even spoke about emergency rule. No sign of tension whatsoever.

- Islamabad airport - same situation as always. No extra checks, no soldiers. Outside no tanks, apc's or extra security forces. Just business as usual. A lot of people outside picking up loved ones from an airport.

- Islamabad -Airport to Islamabad (20 km):
No difference with any other day. I've lived here, so I really know. A lot of people on the roads and streets - they all went to work. Halfway Pindi-Islamabad a police checkpoint, well, not a checkpoint actually, just four cops standing next to the highway (this is a permanent police post, already there for many years). Saw some other policemen trying to hitch-hike between Pindi and Islamabad.

- Islamabad.
All shops and schools open. Phones and Internet work. Mobile phone network was NOT cut off. Actually, I got today a new pak mobile connection, took 15 minutes.

Haven't seen any demonstration. Did not notice any lawyers, just nothing. No army, no extra police, no checkpoints.

All newspapers are published regularly. And the comments are extremely critical of Musharraf. "Pakistan's blackest days" and "A power hungry Musharraf" are words frequently used in papers like Dawn, The News, The Nation. More or less a free press during a state of emergency - strange, but very Pakistani. Because although military rule is nothing new to Pakistan, the country has a tradition of very open and critical debates. I reached Pakistan via Dubai. Hell, I'd rather have a Pakistani paper during martial law than these crappy Dubai-long-live-the-ruler-newspapers.
Honestly, had a tourist visited Islamabad and Pindi on Tuesday, he or she would not have noticed anything out of the ordinary.

So is everything totally normal?

NO, definitely not.

Around the presidential palace in Islamabad, police has blocked two main roads. Riot police is on stand by. But, honestly nothing dramatic. Just 50 cops with helmets sitting nest to a road. I guess, the White House is better protected on regular days.

Around ten TV channels are still blocked from broadcasting. Actually, TV stations like GEO or Dawn News can still broadcast, but their signal is not being transmitted by the cable companies (on government orders of course). But later on Tuesday I heard from several people who live in the country side (outside Islamabad) that they had access to all channels again. In the cities though many news channels remain blocked. As I flip through my channels in my room, I get around ten black channels. Cartoon Network and PTV (Pakistan's state TV) still are on air. PTV showed some silly show on different kind of food from the country. Really interesting of course in times of martial law...

Spoke to many ordinary people today. Except for one, nobody supported Musharraf's action. But none of these people told me they were willing to demonstrate. Some were scared to be arrested, but most of them just did not seem to care too much. "Whatever we say or want," a man told me, "In a country like Pakistan the leaders never ever listen to us. So it is the same song all over again."

I was though surprised that 99 percent of people were so negative about Musharraf. It will be very difficult for Pakistan's president to win back the hearts of minds of ordinary Pakistanis. Most of them are convinced Musharraf is just a power hungry ruler. And a lot of people told me that the emergency situation had nothing to do with fighting radical islamists, but everything with controlling the lawyers and judges.

Last, but not least: The mass arrests. True, hundreds (maybe up to 3000) people have been detained. Many though are under house arrest (which is of course not so bad). Others were put into government guesthouses. Compared to home sweet home, not a nice play to stay of course. But, at the other hand, it is also not the end of the world.

And let's not forget. Except for lawyers, judges and a couple of left wing human rights activists, a lot of arrests were made among extreme right wing islamists. Retired general and former head of Pakistan's ISI, Hameed Gul, was arrested. He is a notorious right winger, supporting Taliban and Al Qaeda. Also, the leader of Jamaat e Islami, Qazi Hussain Ahmad, was arrested. He is a notorious hardcore right winger/islamist.

Just this: Since Musharraf has declared martial law, nobody has been killed. Around 5 to 10 people received minor injuries during scuffles between police and demonstrators (mainly lawyers).

Tomorrow more.

Harald Doornbos

HARRYZZZ FROM ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN

I arrived today, Tuesday morning, in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. This of course because of the current controverse surrounding president Musharraf's decision to declare martial law.

Later today the first story; live from Pakistan.

But don't get too exited...

Honestly, there is hardly anything going on here. Stories of "a brutal crackdown" seem highly exaggerated. Situation very, very normal. No this isn't the same as Burma a couple of weeks ago - far from it.

As said before, a more detailed story will follow within a couple of hours.

Harald Doornbos

Sunday, November 04, 2007

EMERGENCY RULE IN PAKISTAN!

A major, major development in Pakistan. Although many people thought he did not dare to do it, on saturday November 3rd 2007, president Pervez Musharraf has declared emergency rule.

Hopefully soon more on harryzzz on this amazing development.

Harald Doornbos

Thursday, November 01, 2007

IN LEBANESE CANNABIS VILLAGE, PROUD TO BE DUTCH

It is great to be Dutch. Especially after arrival in Boudai, a cannabis- or marijuana growing village in Lebanon's Beka'a valley. "Hey," the villagers tell me, "We're expecting the Dutch dealer only in December."

As I wasn't the dealer but just a Dutch journalist, they explain me how things work here.

"We'll be harvesting anytime soon," Abu Ali, the owner of a cannabis field, says. As we walk towards it, you can smell the marijuana.

"This must be a relaxed village," I ask.

"Oh, yeah, it is," replies Abu Ali. In the meantime, another chap, named Bessam, walks along. "Top quality goes for 1000 usd a kilo," Bessam claims.

Boudai's return to cannabis production started - as with almost everything in nowadays Lebanon - with the killing of Lebanese ex-PM Rafik Hariri. Or, in other words, with the collapse of the Lebanese state.

Until his killing, in 2005, Boudai had been clean. It did not grow cannabis for over ten years. Almost fifteen years of relative peace in Lebanon had strengthened the state. Even here, in the notoriously lawless Beka'a valley, police and army men patrolled the streets. Cannabis, massively produced here during the civil war, became a forbidden fruit, or better, plant. Without cannabis, the villagers of Boudai grew potatoes.

So Hariri got killed. And anti-Syrian members of parliament, politicians and intellectuals started, involuntarily, to drop dead on Beirut's streets. Then, a Summer war between the radical Shi'ite militia Hezbollah and Israel. Followed by an overly confident Hezbollah trying to overthrow the Lebanese government by boycotting parliament and starting violent street protests. The result of this was clear: Hatred between Sunni's (mostly pro-government) and Shiites (anti-government). To make matters worse: Lebanon has to choose, by the end of November, a new president to replace the current pro-Syrian and pro-Hezbollah one. Government and opposition can't agree on a candidate. Hezbollah and its christian allies of Michel Aoun have threatened to set up a parallel government with a president of their own.

This remarkable downward spiral has made the central government even more of a lame duck.

"Because of the the Summer War and the political chaos in 2006," continues Abu Ali, "We though: Hey, screw these potatoes and let's plant some cannabis. More or less as a test. Let's see if the police will come and try to destroy the crops."

But the cops did not show up. Instead, a Dutch drug dealer arrived. Cannabis was back in the Beka'a valley. "We said to each other: Damn, why did we not plant more!."

So this year, almost everybody in the village exchanged potatoes for cannabis. And not only here in Boudai (which is a muslim shi'ite village), but in at least ten other neighbouring villages (both shi'ite and christian).

A couple of weeks ago, policemen tried to enter Boudai and burn down the crops. But the men from the village got their rifles and Kalashnikov ready and opened fire on the police. "Well, not at them, but above their heads," says Abu Ali. "They all went down and fled," he smilingly claims.

So now everybody here is waiting for the Dutch drug dealer. Because the Dutch guy means money and there is a chronic lack of money in this part of Lebanon.

"Most people are very poor," says Bessam, "Potatoes alone just do not do it."

"Hezbollah is, due to religious reasons, against cultivating cannabis," claims Abu Ali. "So we told them: Ok, we'll stop growing this stuff if you supply us with jobs and a monthly salary of 500 usd. They told us they did not have the money to do that."

Last question: Will 2008 be another cannabis year for Boudai?

"For sure," says Abu Ali, "We are probably one of the few people in Lebanon who hope for continuing political turmoil. To us it would be good when they can't elect a new president."

Harald Doornbos