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Reporters on the Job

September 16, 2002



• RIDING WITH A SMUGGLER: Reporter Philip Smucker stopped at a truck stop in Afghanistan and asked a friendly Pashtun tribesman if he knew someone who would be willing to guide his party through the desert province of Nimruz. He was directed to a young man, who "turned out to know an awful lot about the heroin trade," says Phil. "A little too much."

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As they drove the seven hours through the desert, the young man soon admitted to being from an influential heroin-trading family. He explained the firepower that smugglers usually took with them just to travel down the same road. Near a wind-swept village, an area known as "the moving sands," the road closed in, and Phil and his interpreter, the driver, and the guide became lost in a maze of intersecting sand dunes for about a hour.

"Between being lost, and our guide's tales of well-armed bandits who prey on the drug caravans, it was a bit frightening. And we didn't have as much as a rocket launcher or a simple machine gun on board," says Phil.

When the four finally arrived in Zaranj, a smugglers' haven on the Afghan-Iranian border where US troops have set up a new base (see page 1), Phil discovered that he had left his passport back at the truck stop. "As it turned out, the smuggler's family had a satellite phone handy because they always used it to check the price of heroin. We called the truck stop and asked them to look after my passport until our return."

• FORECAST – NO SHELLS TODAY: The Monitor's Scott Baldauf went to the Indian border town of Uri to test the pulse of the Kashmir electorate before today's vote (page 7). The Pakistan border was about a mile away and Pakistani artillery shells fall in Uri on a fairly regular basis. "When I asked locals if there would be any shelling, they said, 'Not until election day.' I did not find that to be very comforting. My interpreter was also quick to note that the Pakistanis were 'probably watching us right now from the hills.' "

David Clark Scott
World editor

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