'Next we'll be told the net was tightened even further when they cancelled his Blockbuster video card'
The way the Americans are trawling around for someone – anyone – who might be credible as the next Afghan leader makes them look like a football club that's lost its manager. Various names are linked, then dismissed, and you start to think they could end up with Kevin Keegan or Harry Redknapp.
At the moment the favourite seems to be this ancient King, whose credibility rests on the fact that he briefly ran the place about 30 years ago, and so much has happened since, that no one can remember what he was like.
It's as if there was a crisis in this country and George Bush insisted we sent for Ted Heath. Still, maybe putting an 86-year-old in charge is the sort of long-term planning that's been lacking in the region. And Afghanistan must be the one place in the world where people of that age walk through completely flat areas and say: "When I was a lad this was all buildings round here."
To help him out, the US has plumped for the newly-discovered Northern Alliance: though I bet they were willing to consider almost anyone left standing. CIA agents were probably stood over a Kabul telephone directory, going "What about the Ramblers' Association? Or the scouts? Oh here we are, Weight Watchers. Give them a ring and see if they can use a rocket launcher."
In the end it was the good fortune of the Northern Alliance to have an innocuous-sounding name, and some of the US military are probably under the impression that it's a building society. The assumption must be that it'll find Osama bin Laden, because now his bank accounts have been frozen he'll fall behind on his mortgage and it'll sniff him out with a bombardment of calls from a call centre in Newcastle. Once he gets "Hello, this is Tina here from the Northern Alliance, can I speak to a Mr bin Laden regarding his monthly payments, please?" every morning at ten past eight, he'll soon show his face.
The way that Tony Blair announced on Monday that all bin Laden's assets were frozen shows how from here on you can't believe a word from anyone. If this is true, does that mean he was still able to use his credit card until the weekend? Tomorrow we'll be told on the news that the net was further tightened around his evil organisation when the Government cancelled his Blockbuster video card.
We're told the war won't be fought against the "Afghan people". So why are they all fleeing, then? They're just getting all uptight and panicking unnecessarily, are they? Perhaps they're aware that they won't be targets in the same way that Serb shoppers in market places and Iraqis hiding in bomb shelters weren't targets either.
Already the war leaders are claiming to know where bin Laden is. Perhaps they do, or maybe they know in the same way they knew the last time they chased such a high-profile enemy, when they were searching for Che Guevara. When he was in Bolivia the CIA reported: "Che Guevara has been captured in Peru." A month later they reported: "Che Guevara is in Guatemala." Then the FBI reported: "Che Guevara died trying to invade the Dominican Republic." Then they reported he was in Zambia. Then that he'd been murdered by the Russians for supporting China. Then that he was in Argentina. Then Colombia, then Venezuela, then that he'd been murdered by Fidel Castro, and then "he was killed in a miniature yellow submarine". And bin Laden has an added advantage; in Afghanistan you only have to dress as a woman and nobody has a clue WHO you are. No one in Kabul ever rushes up to greet someone saying "I knew it was you – I'd recognise that veil anywhere".
The problem with the propaganda isn't that it's unfair to bin Laden and the Taliban, as they're thoroughly rancid whether lies are told about them or not. But then some of us knew that a while ago. Whereas Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and the current US President's dad referred to the groups that now make up the Afghan government as "freedom fighters", and the CIA surrounded them with weapons. Just as the Northern Alliance, as Robert Fisk described in this paper yesterday, is made up of gangsters and rapists as appalling as the Taliban it's being asked to topple. In a few years we'll all be asked to supportits overthrow, while Western leaders will say to us: "You'll never guess what – it's a bunch of gangsters and rapists."
The trouble is that there's a layer of society that accepts the military tells reams of lies during wartime, on the condition it's a war that ended a few years ago. So during this war commentators will say: "Yes, the story of Iraqis throwing babies out of incubators was a lie. And all right, we know the film of the Serb train bombed on a railway bridge was speeded up to make it look like a pilot error. And that the factory in Sudan bombed by Clinton was a medicine plant and not a weapons factory. But the Talibans' mass kitten-drowning day must be true – it was on CNN and confirmed by Peter Hain on Newsnight."