The man asleep in Mullah Mohammed Omar's bed in Kandahar had a machine gun next to him, but I decided to wake him anyway. Was he dreaming of the spiritual leader of the Taliban, now turned fugitive? A growl came back in reply. "I'm too tired to dream," he said before covering his head with a wool blanket.
I glanced around the room. The bed is small, considering that Omar has three wives. He fled as soon as the U.S. started bombing Kandahar--leaving behind a few mementos: a poster of the Medina mosque, some syrupy medicine, and the word Allah painted in gold and black on glass, framed and hanging above the bed. The house is decorated with plastic bedroom chandeliers and sentimental frescoes of waterfalls. It doesn't quite fit the urbane tastes of Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan's interim Prime Minister. "You should see the place," Karzai had said, rolling his eyes. But Karzai well knows the importance of destroying the myth of Omar, the one-eyed visionary who conversed with the Prophet in his dreams. That's why a common sentry snoozes in Omar's bed.
The other legend being dismantled is Osama bin Laden's. He lived in a fortress the locals called the Wolves' Frontier, set up near Kandahar airport. Defended to the death by his fighters, it was pounded by U.S. bombs. Its remains mix domesticity and terror: kids' swing sets, a deep bunker, four stallions and a wheat field where bin Laden experimented with American grains to find one suited to the parched Afghan desert. From his two-story office he could watch trainees grunting their way under barbed wire. It's all debris now, along with dented tea trays and broken dolls. And a few cruel parting gifts: last week a Pakistani journalist kicked a boot in the ruin, and a mine hidden underneath blew off his leg and most of his face.