Background: This letter was written to an NGO staffer based in Indonesia. This staffer was frustrated because she had been informed by her head offices in Washington and Bankok that she was "strongly encouraged" to avoid returning to her home in Jakarta. The writer is a journalist working for a major international news agency in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Some identifying information has been altered.

Sent: Thursday, October 11, 2001 6:15 AM

Dearest E
It is 3 a.m. in the morning in Islamabad and I've just got off the phone to S in Kabul for the umpteenth time tonight. He is speaking to me on a Satphone from from under his bed as the seventh air raid of the evening rages around him. He is calm, lucid and utterly charming.

S is 30 years old and married with two children. He has been with (our news agency) for eight years, although he only became a full-time staffer two years ago. He takes pictures for us, shoots video and also writes stories. If you see a photograph of him, you'll notice a mischievous glint to his eye and a handsomeness that the big bushy beard which the Taliban insist he grows cannot hide.

Every day, better paid (news agency) staffers speak to him from Pakistan, Singapore and London in American and British accents -- the same accents that are crackling over the airways between the warplanes that are bombing his home. S is a good Muslim, a proud Muslim, and also an Afgfhan. He loves his country and despairs that there has not been a moment's peace there in the three decades since he was born. He abhors what happened on September 11 as much as anyone who lost a relative there. He never voted for the Taliban -- there hasn't been an election in Afghanistan for decades. He wants his daughter to be able to go to school and his son to play football.

Both are banned by the current regime.

Under the most incredible pressure, in the most trying circumstances, the bravest man I know continues working because he believes that the world has the opportunity to emerge from this nightmare in better shape than ever before. If I could join him there now, I would do so in a heartbeat -- just to shake his hand.

Why am I telling you this? Speaking to you last night it was evident you were very frustrated at the possibility of not being allowed to return to Indonesia. I fully sympathise with you on that.

Along with bombs and food aid, the Americans are also dropping thousands of cheap transistor radios with the tuning fixed so that you can listen to one station only -- Voice of America. S tells me that the constant message being broadcast by VOA is the speech by George W. Bush insisting that Muslims are not the enemy, Islam is not the target. S knows that, which is why he speaks with no rancour when he talks to us British- and American- accented colleagues. We talk to each other because we trust each other. We can look each other in the eye and know that while what is going on around us may affect us, we did not cause it and it won't interfere with our relationship.

When you return to Jakarta, you have to be able to walk back into your office and look your colleagues in the eye and be able to say "This is not about us. I trust you." If you don't do that, why on earth should the Indonesians, ever again believe you are genuinly committed to trying to help them? If you don't trust them, why should they trust you? The world is full of lunatics, but they don't all cloak themselves in Islam. Not to return would suggest you think otherwise.

I appreciate that your return may actually be out of your control, but I hope you will keep pressing the point. Perhaps as a journalist specialising in hostile environments I am not the best person to proffer advice on this, but as your husband and your friend I still think it is the right thing to do.

S told me earlier that as he was trying to film some of the bomb damage for Wednesday's raids, a Taliban tank drove towards him and its crew gestured for him to stop. Obviously he did -- they would have shot him otherwise. He stood by as the tank then deliberately and methodically drove towards his little blue Renault and, despite his protestations, crushed it like a tin can. You should see the picture he took once the tank left.

Go back to Jakarta -- if only for S.

All my love