Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA), February 12, 2007
Afghanistan truckers driving between life and death
Aga has been attacked three times, and three of the colleagues he had gotten to know have been murdered.
By Can Merey
Kabul - When Khan Aga powers up his Mercedes diesel truck and leaves Kabul for southern Afghanistan, he doesn't know if he will ever see his wife and eight children again.
Aga's constant companion in the driver's cabin is fear, and it's not because of gruelling traffic or the nature of his freight. The chilled foodstuffs he carries are hardly contraband or controversial, but his employer is: The 37-year-old trucker supplies foreign military camps in Afghanistan and has, therefore, become a rolling target for militants.
Aga has done this job for one year, and nobody in their right mind would dare ask him if he enjoys his work, but it brings in higher pay than other Afghan truck drivers earn to support his large family.
The truck he drives is owned by an Afghan company earning hard US dollars from the purchase orders of its military clients. Its sides are emblazoned with 'Kuehltransporte Sebastian Beisl,' but instead of driving for the German chilled freight company, it is now commissioned by NATO and US-led coalition forces.
The only adornment in Aga's driver's cabin is a bunch of blue plastic flowers. The bumpers and side mirrors are decorated with colourful pieces of fabric in the style of the Pashtuns, Afghanistan's largest ethnic group and the main source of new Taliban recruits in southern and eastern Afghanistan.
However, this somewhat pathetic camouflage is not very successful. Chilled transports are expensive and, therefore, are likely commissioned by foreigners. Taliban rebels are well aware of that.
Aga has been attacked three times, and three of the colleagues he had gotten to know have been murdered. Many more who he hadn't ever met have also been killed.
The last time Aga's truck was fired on by militants was three months ago on the 'death route' between Kandahar in southern Afghanistan and the northern city of Ghasni.
Despite suffering two flat tires, Aga hit the gas while the truck of his colleague behind him was going up in flames.
'I didn't stop,' he said.
Another time, in eastern Afghanistan's Kunar province, the rebels shot at him but missed him by a hair.
Then again, half a year ago, Aga's luck seemed to have left him.
He was driving a delivery for the US military in the western province of Farah as a Taliban pickup forced him to stop. The rebels set his truck on fire and blindfolded Aga before they transferred him to an unknown place.
'One of them pinned my head down, the other my legs,' Aga recalled while putting a cigarette between his rotten teeth. 'A third one beat me with an iron tube.'
Aga is still on medication because of that assault and proves it by pulling out a yellow box of painkillers from his worn-out anorak.
The lesson the Taliban intended to deliver after they relieved him of his money and his cell phone and released him still blindfolded was clear: They didn't want him to work for the foreign 'invaders' again. But Aga ignored their warning.
'I have no other choice because I have to support a large family,' he said.
Whoever drives for the foreign troops can earn about 300 dollars per month, three times the average salary of an Afghan truck driver.
'Every other trucker I know is afraid, but no one wants to quit their job,' Aga said.
It is not only a dangerous but also a lonely kind of work. During emergencies, nobody will be there to help.
He will soon be on his way to Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan. His destination will be the encampment of the German NATO contingent.
'It's a safe route,' he said. 'I can even stop at the roadside and drink some tea.'
But only one day after his arrival back in Kabul, he will once again drive southward - on the 'death route' to Kandahar.
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