Afghan-Pakistan Border Blocks NATO, Not Taliban

A man holds the keys to his car i i

hide captionA man holds the keys to his car while yelling for customers to catch a ride with him to Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan and the border crossing at the Khyber Pass.

David Gilkey/NPR
A man holds the keys to his car

A man holds the keys to his car while yelling for customers to catch a ride with him to Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan and the border crossing at the Khyber Pass.

David Gilkey/NPR

The closure of the border at Torkham has blocked NATO supply trucks from crossing Pakistan's main border gate into Afghanistan, but it has not created much of a barrier for the Taliban.

Pakistan closed the Torkham border crossing after U.S. helicopters mistakenly killed two Pakistani border guards. Since then, there have been multiple insurgent attacks on NATO trucks stuck at the crossing.

American officials suspect that most Taliban fighters are simply walking through the Torkham border crossing at the entrance to the Khyber Pass, either paying small bribes or passing completely undetected. Previously, conventional wisdom held that the Taliban have been sneaking back and forth to Pakistan through the rugged mountains in northeast Afghanistan.

Crossing Back And Forth

Chaos is a mild word to describe Torkham, where there is a constant flow of trucks, cars, pedestrians and even wheelbarrows carrying women and older men crossing back and forth. Kids run around hawking drinks and telephone cards, weaving around the border guards.

A taxi driver waits in Kabul i i

hide captionA taxi driver waits in Kabul for transiting passengers coming from Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan and the border crossing at the Khyber Pass. U.S. and NATO forces have been fighting a long battle in the mountainous area along the Pakistan border searching for supply routes used for both weapons and fighters.

David Gilkey/NPR
A taxi driver waits in Kabul

A taxi driver waits in Kabul for transiting passengers coming from Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan and the border crossing at the Khyber Pass. U.S. and NATO forces have been fighting a long battle in the mountainous area along the Pakistan border searching for supply routes used for both weapons and fighters.

David Gilkey/NPR

It only takes a few moments of observation to see police on the Pakistani side of the border hitting up travelers for bribes of a few dollars. On the Afghan side, not much attention is paid as people walk into the country.

Jan Muhammad, from the nearby city of Jalalabad, admits to being a small-time gold smuggler. He says that ethnic Pashtuns, like most of the Taliban and most of the border guards at Torkham, are rarely stopped at all. Those who do not speak Pashto face more hassle, but Muhammad regularly sneaks his gold through without paying customs.

And he says he is sure Taliban fighters are crossing too.

"It's not like they have it written on their faces, but they're Talibs," Muhammad says through an interpreter.

He says it is much worse on the other side of the border in Pakistan, where the Taliban move openly in trucks between their camps.

A Porous Border

The head of the Afghan border guards in Jalalabad, Mohammad Zaman Mamozai, agrees with the smuggler. All of the explosives and weapons are coming from Pakistan, according to Mamozai, who has supervised the border police in Torkham for the past two years.

Sadiqullah, a taxi driver i i

hide captionSadiqullah, a taxi driver who carries passengers between Kabul and eastern Afghanistan, says he is certain that insurgents and Taliban fighters are using the border crossing at Torkham Gate on the western end of the Khyber Pass to slip into Afghanistan unchecked by both Pakistani and Afghan authorities.

David Gilkey/NPR
Sadiqullah, a taxi driver

Sadiqullah, a taxi driver who carries passengers between Kabul and eastern Afghanistan, says he is certain that insurgents and Taliban fighters are using the border crossing at Torkham Gate on the western end of the Khyber Pass to slip into Afghanistan unchecked by both Pakistani and Afghan authorities.

David Gilkey/NPR

He thinks more insurgents cross the mountains than use the gate. But with 40,000 to 70,000 people entering through the official border each day, he says there are probably hundreds of Taliban among them.

Mamozai would like more help from the international community, but he wants it to be used on the Pakistani side, which he believes is actively helping the insurgency.

"All [the aid and help] the international community gives to [Pakistan] ... all those resources are being used against the international community ... everybody knows about that," he says through an interpreter.

Mamozai adds that many Pashtun tribes straddle the poorly marked Torkham border and are not even asked for passports as they come and go. The U.S. military recently sent a special task force out to the border to tackle the problem.

'None Of Them Get Caught'

On the Afghan side of the border, a car with a loudspeaker blares religious music that was commonly played before prayer during the Taliban times, and a local mullah is appealing for donations to build a new mosque.

A taxi driver named Sadiqullah, who drives the route daily from Torkham up to Kabul, says he is dead certain that he has carried Talibs in his car before.

"Out of a hundred who pass through the border," he says through an interpreter, "I think none of them get caught."

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