Saturday, January 26, 2008
President Karzai's personal war
Switzerland is a stranger to conflict, having opted out of World War II in a state of neutrality, but some visitors bring their own battle with them.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai was in the remote Swiss town of Davos this week as part of his ongoing mission to rally international help to drive the Taliban from his homeland.
Though reminiscent of the snow-capped peaks that loom over Kabul, the ski slopes are a far cry from the scarred Afghan landscape – a peaceful picture postcard scene that would set anyone’s mind at ease.
But Karzai remains on his guard.
CNN visited the Afghan leader in his rented Swiss mountain villa overlooking Davos for an interview that drove home the constant state of peril in which he has spent every day since he took office after the 2001 fall of the Taliban.
Before entering the villa, the CNN crew was marched 100 meters along a deserted snow-covered road by a team of security guards. Bags were unpacked, video cameras were scrutinized and each of us given a thorough body check.
The equipment is a particular concern for Afghans, who in the days prior to the Taliban’s defeat, lost iconic Northern Alliance commander Ahmed Shah Masood when a suicide bomber posing as a journalist detonated a bomb in a TV camera.
Only after we have all been checked -- under scrutiny from almost a dozen Afghan security guards, Swiss police and special agents -- are we admitted to the building, where Karzai is waiting.
The level of vigilance surrounding the president is one of the best reminders that his country is still in a state of conflict – one that has come perilously close to ending the life of its leader on several occasions.
Karzai himself is, as always, cucumber cool, but clearly pensive.
There is a clear contrast the following day when the CNN crew sets up to film Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda.
Although this takes place within the security surrounding the World Economic Forum in Davos, the event is a markedly relaxed affair.
Fukuda himself is all smiles, joking with the crew when the cameras stop rolling. Asked if he was still enjoying being Japanese prime minister, he grins sheepishly, and replies: “I’m suffering.”
Clearly not as much as Karzai.
By CNN.com Digital Producer Barry Neild in Davos, Switzerland
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