Murphy's Law: King Of The Khyber Pass

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December 14,2008: For centuries, the tribes along the main road between Pakistan and Afghanistan (mainly the ones that go through the Khyber Pass, and several others) collected payments from the merchants (or, these days, trucking companies) to insure safe passage. Some of the current tribes are pro-Taliban, but this is business, and it has become more lucrative as the Afghan economy has revived since 2001 (when the reactionary, and bad for business, Taliban were chucked out). But now some pro-Taliban groups are trying to grab a chunk of the "security" business. This explains the several attacks made on convoys and truck stops in the past month. These new guys want a piece of the action, and the people who already have it are fighting back. While you hear about the U.S. and NATO convoys being attacked, the battles back in the hills, between the rival warlords, gets less coverage (mainly because reporters are apt to be shot, just to keep the media away from the savage fashion in which these disputes are settled.) The truck security payments (often a thousand dollars or more per truck per trip) are a major source of cash for the border tribes. It's something worth fighting, and dying, for.

While religion and tribal politics play a big role in the Taliban and al Qaeda violence in Pakistan and Afghanistan, you also have to follow the money to get to the source of most of the fighting. You can live without religion, but you can't live without food. And that will cost you, especially in one of the poorest regions of Asia. It's also one of the most heavily armed parts of Asia, where hungry tribesmen have long resorted to violence when they were hungry, or just greedy.

 


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