In the cabins of their “jingle” trucks flamboyant with tinsel baubles and painted tiger patterns as they move Nato’s war supplies, Habibullah thinks he and other drivers are becoming a forgotten front in an Afghan war growing more vicious.
“We worry about our fate when Nato leaves, because the Taliban also call us infidels. For them, we are not just the enemy, but also traitors,” said the soft spoken 23-year-old driver, who contributes seven trucks to a cooperative with five owners.
It is a thankless and increasingly deadly job, and one so mired in graft that the drivers see a fraction of the cash paid by United States military paymasters, with the rest skimmed by middlemen or even going into the hands of insurgents for “protection”.
Only this week, three of Habibullah’s trucks were attacked and burned by Taliban amid the rugged mountains of Nuristan, a virtual no-go zone for Nato soldiers after heavy past losses and now garrisoned by a handful of Afghan troops and police.
A truck belonging to another company was torched and the driver shot dead in Pakistan, while 22 fuel tankers were blown up in the north by insurgents there as they moved fuel and equipment.
“One of our drivers was killed. We brought his body back to Jalalabad,” Habibullah said. “His wife came and grabbed me by my collar, tearing my shirt and shouting ‘you killed my husband’. I had to give her some money. The Americans don’t help with that.”
Another driver, Lalajan, sits on a crimson carpet in a container filled with the rattle of an ageing fan against the oppressive heat and says Taliban raids are mounting this summer, as foreign combat troops look to leave the country by 2014.
The Nato-led coalition this week acknowledged that insurgent attacks had risen 11 percent in the past three months compared to last year, with a spokesman blaming a severe winter and crop failures
Pocketing the difference
For the majority of contracts paid by the military, worth around $8,000 on average, middlemen pocketed $4,000 for doing nothing other than having good connections.
Drivers then received around $300 per month in salary, but pocketed $1,000 extra in danger money for each 10- to 15-day delivery to military bases in the riskiest areas.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 30th, 2012.
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