BROOKE GLADSTONE: We're back with On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. It's a long-troubled Muslim nation reeling in the violent aftermath of war, riven by sectarian rivalries, chaotic and violent despite a heavy presence of U.S. troops. I refer, of course, to Afghanistan where the Bush administration's war on terror began and where it continues, more in the shadows than ever -- not because clandestine operations are hidden from the press's view, but because the press has largely evaporated. The huge media presence of two years ago has dwindled to a handful of foreign correspondents trying gamely to cover an unruly exercise in nation building. Pamela Constable is the Washington Post Afghanistan Bureau, and she joins me now from Kabul. Pam, welcome to OTM.
PAMELA CONSTABLE: Well, nice to hear your voice, and happy to be on your show.
BOB GARFIELD: So, feeling a little lonely, are we?
PAMELA CONSTABLE: Well, you know, to tell you the truth, in some ways it's a lot less lonely than it used to be. When I visited here a number of times during the Taliban regime, it was incredibly lonely. You know, I would be staying in a 500-room, completely empty hotel in which I was literally sometimes the only guest. And, you know, I would go out in the streets and not see another Westerner, let alone another woman. Now, Kabul has become a rather busy, bustling, poor but very exciting place to be -- absolutely full of foreigners of all kinds. So if there's anything lonely about it, it's that there isn't, as you point out, as much media presence as there was.
BOB GARFIELD:I don't know if you're filing less or what, but you don't seem as prominent in the pages of the Washington Post as you were a couple of years ago, you know, in the heat of the war. But you're still in the paper, huh?
PAMELA CONSTABLE: Absolutely. I mean I'm writing two, three stories a week. I'm writing as much as I ever have. In fact, in some ways, it's a better situation because I'm writing more features and less breaking news. The difference, I think, has much more to do with what happens to the stories. There's still a lot of appetite for stories from Afghanistan, but there's much more competition, particularly, you know, with Iraq and the Middle East, and because there's less television coverage here, the news is more sort of driven by what we see happening, what we decide to write about.
BOB GARFIELD:In the run up to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan a couple of years ago, I have this vivid image of Peter Jennings standing on a studio floor-sized map of the region, explaining where Afghanistan resides geographically, and, and I guess culturally. And Afghanistan, for, you know, a brief time, was pretty much in the forefront of American thoughts. Do you believe that it is back in the shadows and that, to the extent that Americans were aware that it was there, it's just kind of disappeared from their view?
PAMELA CONSTABLE: I don't really think so. The United States is spending a heck of a lot of money here every day, and the United States still has thousands of troops here, and they're not leaving any time soon. I think as long as that remains the case, there will be a lot of interest in what happens here, you know, again, whether or not it's, it's on the evening news every night. You know, again, because the television coverage of this country has dropped off, it makes for less, certainly, American and international awareness of what's going on.
BOB GARFIELD:And how about covering the war itself? Most of the fighting is going on along the border with Pakistan, not in Kabul. Is it difficult for you to stay abreast of the developments in the struggle against the holdout Taliban forces?
PAMELA CONSTABLE: It is. The difficulty has a lot to do with danger. You know, up until quite recently, reporters and, and people in general could travel pretty much all over the country. One could drive on the roads; one could, you know, do interviews and sort of stop along the way and chat, and you know, do a sort of normal kind of reporting. Now, because there have been so many attacks on police and aid workers and schools, you know, the so-called "soft targets," people are being much more careful now about when and where they travel, how they travel, with whom, in what kind of vehicle. So yes, I mean I'm doing a lot of reporting from Kabul. I've made three or four trips into the countryside, but not the kind of extended trips I used to take when there was less of a risk.
BOB GARFIELD:One more question: you've spent the better part of the last five years dodging bullets and bandits in the midst of a very interesting ongoing story, but if the foreign editor of the Washington Post were to call you tomorrow and say, hey, Pam-- Paris beckons -- what would you say?
PAMELA CONSTABLE: Well, I've got to tell you, I'm not really the Paris type. [LAUGHS] If the foreign editor called and said, you know, Johannesburg beckons or Mexico City beckons or Cairo beckons, that might be very tempting. But, you know, I don't know what I would do in Paris. I mean, you know, go sit in cafes and interview, you know, artists or something. It just doesn't have the same, same ring of truth, somehow.
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] Well, Pam, thank you very much. I appreciate your time.
PAMELA CONSTABLE: Well, it's been a pleasure, and you know, come on out -- the weather is crisp and cool and fall.
BOB GARFIELD: Okay. Keep a light on for me.
PAMELA CONSTABLE: All right.
BOB GARFIELD: Pamela Constable is the Kabul bureau chief for the Washington Post. [MUSIC]