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."
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