Bin Laden bounty more that Afghans can imagine

By Noble Johns

KABUL, Afghanistan (BNW)
--America’s $25 million reward for the capture of Osama bin Laden is the stupidest idea our dumb government could have come-up with; for the simple reason, the people of Afghanistan don’t have clue about how much money $25 million is really worth.

For example, Ahmed Samir, 14, is happily interested in the Great Osama bin Laden Search. After all, he calculates, $25 million in reward money is enough to feed his family for 10 years.

Mohammed Agha, an 18-year-old balloon seller, is less optimistic. If he caught the world's most wanted man, he figures, $25 million would buy 100 party balloons at a wholesale price of two cents each.

A lot of Afghans are tempted when they learn of President Bush's bounty on the head of bin Laden, but few have even a vague notion of how much that is worth. In a sampling across Kabul, most people said such a reward would be enough to last them the rest of their lives. At a typical monthly wage of $4, in fact, it would cover the next 500,000 years.

Not that it matters, of course. No one expects to catch him anyway.

"I'm afraid we haven't seen him lately," said Attaullah Safi, a 27-year-old commercial banker, who had a better idea of the reward's worth.

He said the amount is probably equal to what the fleeing Taliban looted from Afghanistan's Central Bank in dollars, European currencies and Afghanis when they fled to Kandahar on November 13.

"That kind of money is an unbelievable fortune in the straits we're in," he said. "If I happened to cash in, I'd build factories and businesses to get some of these poor jobless people off the streets."

On an old bridge over the Kabul River, money changers clutching stacks of Afghanis guffawed at the idea of converting the reward into local currency. The largest note -- 10,000 Afghanis -- is worth 25 cents.

One of them, named only Attiqullah, whipped out his calculator. Since the Afghani is gaining ground against the dollar, he said, the reward is worth a mere 950 billion Afghanis. Days ago, it was in the trillions.

"Million?" asked an incredulous colleague, impressed enough at a nine-figure sum. "No, no, billion! Right, billion," Attiqullah replied as his friend shook his head is disbelief.

Asked if he could supply the notes, he snorted. "The stack of bills would be taller than that," Attiqullah said, pointing to the nearby 18-story power company building.

The sampling of opinions revealed little love for bin Laden and his Arab followers.

"Don't mention that man's name to me," said Abdul Rahman, 35, who now displays Leonardo Dicaprio photos at his tiny stationery shop. "The money is not important. Human values are worth more. I'd swat him like a fly."

Next door, Mohammed Sidiq, 28, features more Titanic pin-ups, along with racy portraits of Indian actresses. The Taliban forced him to give up an acting career, but he is now too busy to be bitter.

"I can't stand the guy, but I've got my shop to run," he said. "You people can find him."

Several people raised a practical point: If they turned in bin Laden for money, they'd get out of the country fast before his sympathizers could take revenge. Similar attitudes pervaded the old mud heart of town.

"We hate him," declared Abdul Razaq, grizzled and snaggle-toothed at 52. "If I find him, I will cut him to pieces. Keep the money. I'll offer my own reward of $25 million. My friends will lend it to me."

At a market, Mohammed Asef, 25, knows what the reward is worth and doesn't like it. "I can't look for him because I'm looking for food," he said. "You spend all that to find Osama, and we're still hungry."

On a hill above the city, Amir Mohammed's militia unit guards a mud fort from the Moghul era from where warring factions periodically shelled Kabul between 1992 and the Taliban takeover four years later.

Wearing an ankle-length black shirt instead of a uniform, with no weapon in evidence, the 31-year-old officer seemed confident that all traces of the enemy had been obliterated.

Like most people in Kabul, he had not heard about the reward for bin Laden, and he roared with laughter at the amount.

"Why don't you give me an advance of a million dollars," he suggested, "and I will go look for him."

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