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EDITIONS
Monday, 11 March, 2002, 10:45 GMT
Ridley's Return to Kabul
Yvonne Ridley
Yvonne Ridley was arrested on 28 September
Yvonne Ridley, the UK journalist who was jailed by the Taleban after entering Afghanistan illegally, writes here about retracing her steps for a BBC Radio 4 documentary.

A lot of people gave up hope of ever seeing me alive again after I was arrested by the Taleban last September.

The tears started to flow as I remembered...my fear I'd never see my daughter or parents again

Yvonne Ridley
I shot to a strange kind of fame after I entered Afghanistan illegally, dressed in a burqa, and was held in prison as America and Britain started bombing Afghanistan as part of the "war against terror".

You might have thought that Afghanistan would be the last place on earth I'd ever want to revisit. But I've just got back from an amazing return trip with BBC Radio 4 producer Matthew Chapman.

Guides tortured

One of the most highly charged moments was my reunion in Islamabad with two of my guides.

Yvonne Ridley and guide Jan Ali
Yvonne Ridley and Jan Ali
Jan Ali, one of the two men who took me into Afghanistan, was held for more than 50 days by the Taleban before being released when the regime was routed from Kabul.

He told me how he and another guide, Afghan-born Nagibullah, were both tortured and beaten during their captivity.

Although I'd appealed to the Taleban for their release on the BBC World Service Pashtun section, and done what I could behind the scenes, I was consumed by guilt. But Jan Ali reassured me the appeals had influenced the Taleban.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw...received a real earful when he telephoned my mother

Yvonne Ridley
Jan Ali also revealed how I'd been captured. I'd always blamed a runaway donkey but Jan Ali amazed me by claiming I'd already been spotted taking a photograph.

Kabul prison cell

I had an amazing reception in Kabul. So many Afghans remembered me, and there were constant calls of "Ridley, Ridley".

But I had a really difficult moment when I found myself back in my old cell in the female wing of the grim Kabul Prison.

Ridley's cell in Kabul
Ridley's prison cell
I hadn't expected it but the tears started to flow as I remembered the night the bombing started, and my fear that I'd never see my daughter or my parents again.

Perhaps the programme should have been called Ridley Apologises to Kabul because I seemed to spend my time going around the country saying "sorry" to everyone.

I apologised to Jan Ali, I apologised to the prison warders, and when I bumped in to the Foreign Secretary Jack Straw I even found myself apologising to him because he received a real earful when he telephoned my mother after I was arrested.

It's true that the Taleban did treat me with courtesy and respect when I was their prisoner, but during my visit I was confronted with the regime's brutal side on a trip to the once beautiful Shumali Plain, which used to be one of Afghanistan's most agriculturally fertile areas.

I will never forget seeing acres and acres of once fertile land laid waste by the regime's scorched earth policy. The futility of such an act left me feeling very confused.

Positive future for Afghans

But not everything I saw was negative. I met some wonderful people and some truly inspirational women who are already making their mark in this male dominated society.

It was a trip down memory lane for me but I have also seen a glimpse of a possible better future for Afghanistan. I know I shall keep returning - and I hope it will keep getting better.


It's My Story: Ridley's Return to Kabul was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 11 March, 2002.


Talking PointFORUM
Quiz Yvonne Ridley, the UK journalist jailed by the TalebanReturn to Kabul
You quizzed ex-Taleban detainee Yvonne Ridley
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