Bird of Chaman, Flower of the Khyber: Riding Shotgun from Karachi to Kabul in a Pakistani Truck
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
A reporter’s wild journey in the back of a Pakistani truck, through the treacherous Afghanistan-Pakistan borderlands from Karachi to Kabul.
How do you supply an entire war in landlocked Afghanistan? Mostly by truck. In the fall of 2012, award-winning journalist Matthieu Aikins found out firsthand, riding in a rickety 1993 Nissan along the U.S. supply route, from the port city of Karachi into Pakistan’s scorching flatlands and lawless borderlands, then through the famed Khyber Pass and on toward the Afghan warzone. As he travels Pakistan's derelict roadways, Aikins observes how the crucial lifeline for the Afghanistan war has become wound up not only in the shady deals of Pakistani contractors and predatory police, but also in the lives of rural Pashtuns who over the last decade have left their tribal homelands for trucking jobs in droves -- like the two hash-smoking brothers in whose cabin Aikins rides. In his six-day, 1,000-mile trip, Aikins confronts roadside bandits, Kalashnikov-wielding tribal patrols, and hawk-eyed toll guards (not to mention confinement in the truck’s blazing-hot cabin). The result -- the second in the Borderlands ebook series from Foreign Policy magazine and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting -- is both a harrowing account of life on Pakistan’s highways and an anatomy of the way foreign military intervention can transform a society.
said. As darkness fell, we lurched on into the night, our headlights illumi29 MATTHIEU AIKINS • BIRD OF CHAMAN, FLOWER OF THE KHYBER nating an arc of pavement on the unlit highway, throwing shadows against the lush tropical foliage that hemmed us in. Fellow trucks traveled in their own pools of light, sometimes with little motorcycles drafting behind them like sucker fish, and occasionally a fast-moving vehicle, a Toyota Corolla or the shiny pickup truck of a landlord and his guards. At
streamed fresh well water. After passing the fertilizer plant, we had crossed into Punjab province—the traditional heart of Pakistan—and then stopped for the night in a small town called Chani Goth, some 15 miles from the city of Ahmedpur. In the morning I hung my shalwar on a nail and stood under the cool, clean downpour, turning my face up to the open sky. My hair was matted with dust and soot after riding on top of the truck, and the water ran in brown streams down my sides. I didn’t have a
that either of them could hope for. After they became engaged, she sent her little brother to him to ask for his phone number in secret. But Afzal refused. He didn’t want to sneak around. For now, they had to wait. The house was bursting at the seams, and there were no more rooms to accommodate new couples. We went inside and sat down to play carom board, shooting the game’s wooden disks with our fingers. Afzal poured white powder—boric acid, he said—on the board to make it slick. I turned out to
the road. In the final stretch, the road rose and piled on itself in a series of switchbacks and short tunnels cutting through the jagged Mahipar Pass before coming around a bend beside the Kabul River. Sometimes, there were massive traffic jams here as trucks queued up and vehicles trying to pass them got snarled in the opposing lane. But the road was clear this time, and we passed through a set of police checkpoints and into the capital at last, about three hours after we had left Torkham. It
Pakistan, and foreign imports are heavily taxed. Of course, the higher the tariffs, the greater the benefit of smuggling the stuff. Suddle’s report details the case of a fake company called MS Lunar that used fake ISAF letters and an authentic certificate from the Afghan consulate in Karachi to import 52 containers from 2008 to 2010—most of which were later documented as having crossed the border, at least on paper. After receiving a tipoff, the police busted one of the containers in Peshawar in