Road trips down south

Another timely reminder of the dangers on Afghanistan’s southern ringroad. 35 police officers were suspended a couple of days ago following protests by truck drivers about police corruption and kidnappings on the road from Herat to Kandahar.
Incredibly, 12 drivers were kidnapped last week on the road (and I think that that’s probably a conservative figure, and of course it doesn’t mention the numbers of drivers or travellers who were robbed on that same road last week).

The emergency police chief of Afghanistan, Humayon Aini, said: “We will soon make plans to restore peace on the highway with the co-operation of the Afghan National Army (ANA), and we will come down hard on police who disobey the law.” LINK

I get a feeling of déjà vu reading such comments. When I first arrived in Afghanistan in 2003, I watched a press conference on TV in Herat in which Karzai announced that they were setting up more police checkpoints on the southern ringroad and that now security would be established.

I personally make it a point to try to travel on the road at least once a year (and have done so at least twice a year for the past five years), if only to persuade other journalists that this kind of travel is still possible in Afghanistan. Last time I drove from Herat to Kandahar in January this year, stopping in Gereshk for lunch. The photo above is from Farah I think.

The trick is never to plan the trip. If you don’t know you’re travelling somewhere, then nobody else will either. Always travel when it’s light, never when it’s dark. When you get to the taxi station, always try to find a taxi that has an old man also travelling. Whenever you have problems with checkpoints, police, or otherwise, he’ll often get out to smack whoever’s causing the problem around the head before leaving without paying the required bribe.

Last week, part of the ringroad was also closed twice for half a day because of severe clashes between Taliban and government forces/US troops around Wardak province.
Needless to say, things are so bad these days that I’m probably going to take the plane down to Kandahar at the end of the week instead of driving.