Day by Day

Monday, November 10, 2003

Sometimes one cannot help but stand in humility and awe when encountering the courage and fortitude of other. This is one of those times.
Mr Askerzai helped to seal the treasure in seven trunks and guarded it along with the assets of the central bank - gold bars the "size of your arm" worth about $A120 million - also kept in the presidential palace in a vault carved out of rock.

After the Taliban captured Kabul in 1996, a delegation of 10 mullahs arrived to inspect the vaults. A pistol held against his head, Mr Askerzai opened the combination lock so they could inspect the gold bars. They had found the second prize, but did not realise the real treasure was in a vault above their heads.

The Taliban asked if there was any other gold but Mr Askerzai remained silent. He was jailed for 3 months, during which he was beaten and tortured, but he did not reveal anything.

"I wasn't scared; I didn't care for my life," he said.

On the Taliban's last night in power, they stuffed the central bank's cash reserves into tin trunks and arrived at the vault for the gold bars. They spent four hours trying to open the vault. Mr Askerzai watched.

Unknown to them, five years earlier he had broken the key and left it in the lock. The Taliban gave up and fled as Northern Alliance forces edged closer.

Gold keeper foiled theft by Taliban

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