Afghan Trucker Tells All
- Afghanistan: Life in Truckers' Eyes
By Chris Sands, Afghanistan
In March, there was a series of deadly attacks on Afghans transporting
goods for foreign troops.(Reuters photo)
Abad Khan has spent much of his life on Afghanistan's roads, driving a
truck through some of the most beautiful and hostile terrain in the world.
The work gives the 30-year-old and his colleagues a view of this
country rarely seen or heard about. It is a view they don't like the
Truck drivers are an important barometer of the situation here, as in
their work they experience life across the country.
One, called Rahullah, siad he paid bribes to three different
policemen in a short space of time on a single night.
Police by Day, Taliban by Night
"We pay all our bribes to criminals and they are criminals who wear
police uniforms," Khan said. "In the daytime they have very smart
police uniforms, then in the night they become Taliban and chop
drivers' noses and ears off. No real Taliban do this."
When the Taliban first rose to power in the mid-1990s, it was in part
a response to the rampant lawlessness on Afghanistan's roads, which
had been dominated by the illegal checkpoints of warlords.
Travelling anywhere was a gamble back then, and leading figures in the
transport industry, longing for the security they needed to move their
goods, supported Mullah Mohammed Omar's militants.. According to
today's truck drivers, history is in danger of repeating itself.
"The difference between when the Taliban were in government and now is
the same as the difference between land and sky," 61-year-old Haji
Mohammed Amin said.
"Now we are sick of life and if we are sick of life how can we enjoy
it? What is the meaning of life for us? At that time it had meaning,
now it is nothing."
Afghan truckers insist the police are a bigger threat to their
livelihoods and security.
No More Safety
Violence has increased across the country in recent months, and
colleagues of Khan and Amin have been among the victims.
In May, a trucker was injured in Kandahar by an improvised explosive
device, and in March there was a series of deadly attacks on Afghans
transporting goods for foreign troops.
In one incident the decapitated body of a trucker was found dumped in
the southern province of Zabul. But most notoriously of all, at least
three drivers had their noses and ears cut off earlier that month in
the eastern province of Nuristan.
While officials say attacks such as these are the work of the Taliban,
the truckers themselves often refuse to believe the Taliban are
responsible. Even when they do blame them, they still insist the
police are a bigger threat to their livelihoods and security.
Khan and Amin were sitting with some colleagues waiting to eat lunch
by Jalalabad Road in Kabul, the scene of a number of deadly suicide
bombings. All the men gathered there hated and feared the police
Drivers accused the police of physically abusing their colleagues and
deliberately damaging their trucks.
One, called Rahullah, described how he paid bribes to three different
policemen in a short space of time on a single night. Despite having
been attacked while transporting goods for foreign troops, he insisted
life would be better if the Taliban ruled Afghanistan again.
"It's my dream that ultimately the government will be run by the
Taliban, but we will still get financial support from the Americans,"
the father of five said.
Pakistan-based truckers who ferry supplies to Afghanistan went on
strike earlier this year over the increased taxes and roadside
extortion in Afghanistan. Anwar Ali, a 23-year-old Pakistani, spoke to
me before the protest started.
He carried fake documents to show he was working for private
businessmen, when in fact he often transports goods for the US
military. He had seen trucks set on fire by militants and did not want
to take any chances. However, the militants were the least of his worries.
"Forget about the Taliban, our biggest problems are with the police,"
Drivers claimed they have paid bribes ranging from $1 to around $60.
They said the police pulled fuel trucks over and used them to fill up
their own cars. They also accused the police of physically abusing
their colleagues and deliberately damaging trucks by smashing
headlamps or breaking wing-mirrors.
Asif Hemat stopped transporting supplies for foreign troops when it
became clear the Taliban would target him. Now he just has to worry
about the Afghan men in uniform who are meant to protect him.
"This is the worst time I have ever experienced in my life," the
Chris Sands is a British freelance journalist and photographer who has
lived in Kabul since August 2005. Before making Afghanistan his home,
he spent four years reporting from the Occupied Palestinian
Territories, Iraq, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates. His work is
published by a number of international newspapers, magazines, and
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