PESHAWAR: It was in Jalalabad in 2001, when it became evident that the US was going to launch its war against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Two brothers were arguing over a land dispute and how to profit most from it. “What can be profitable, in this war torn piece of land?” one of them asked. His brother had an idea, “We’ll make use of the junk left from the missiles and tanks,” he said.
After nine years, the mentality has hardly changed in the region on how to make use of foreign goods, regardless of what measures are taken to attain them.
On Saturday, two helicopters meant for Afghanistan, were recovered along with several other goods worth millions of dollars, around fifteen kilometres from Peshawar. This was the second such operation by the security forces to recover arms and medical goods from the area of Wazir Dand, on the boundary of the settled and tribal zone of Khyber Agency.
The Karkhano Market, a cluster of buildings and shops, has transformed, with the focus shifting from stealing smuggled goods to American goods over the past years. The Sitara Market is famous for all sorts of food items, sunglasses, uniforms and shoes of the US soldiers.
“We’ve recovered two helicopters along with medical and military supplies from seven warehouses,” said a security official from the Frontier Corps on the operation carried out on the weekend. “These helicopters are still in pieces. They were stolen to be assembled and sold,” said an official on condition of anonymity.
More than nine North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) oil tankers and supply containers have been attacked in the past week in the semi-autonomous tribal belt of Khyber Agency. Four people have been killed and three others injured in these attacks. The containers which make their way from Karachi to Afghanistan have been consistently attacked in and around Peshawar because of which additional security measures have been adopted. However, in recent times, the attacks have taken place near Torkham on the Pak-Afghan border.
It has been learnt that apart from militants targeting this Nato supply line, the people involved in carrying out the trade are also involved in stealing and then blowing up empty containers. “The warehouses belong to very influential smugglers,” said a local who spoke on condition of anonymity. In June, the Nowshera police recovered two containers near Akora Khattak while they were being offloaded at a place they weren’t supposed to be in.
The war has benefited several people involved in the Pak-Afghan trade and also cost countless lives. But helicopters that have been recovered to be sold reveal the threat that the country is faced with if these weapons get into the wrong hands.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 27th, 2010.