The bribe to exit Pakistan: 15 cents
Afghanistan, Pakistan agreed last week to joint patrols of their border, but official crossings remain lax.
CHAMAN, PAKISTAN — For a little more than the price of tea, Abdul Razzak, a trader, says he crosses illegally from Pakistan into Afghanistan every day.
Mr. Razzak, who stood recently near the border, preparing to cross, has no passport or identification documents of any kind. But that doesn't matter: For only 10 rupees (about 15 cents), he bribes the border security forces to let him through. Sometimes he pays 20.
"I bargain for the price. All of these people," he says, indicating the throngs of pedestrians moving toward the border check post, "when crossing the border, don't have documents. They're all paying the Frontier Constabulary [the border security forces]."
Chaman, the main border crossing into Kandahar 60 miles away, is supposed to be a model of border security, symbolizing Pakistan's commitment to containing the Taliban surge. Instead, security measures are breached for mere pennies, bolstering the accusation that Taliban fighters based in Pakistan are infiltrating the volatile Afghan provinces of Kandahar and Helmand.
That accusation was most recently leveled by Gen. John Abizaid, commander of the US Central Command. He told reporters at Bagram air base that militants are using Pakistan as a base from which to infiltrate into Afghanistan. He was quick to add, however, that he did not believe the Pakistani government is conspiring with them.
"I think that Pakistan has done an awful lot in going after Al Qaeda and it's important that they don't let the Taliban groups be organized on the Pakistani side of the border," he told reporters.
The first step in preventing the Taliban from organizing in Pakistan is to impede their mobility to and from Afghanistan. In an effort to bring more military muscle to the border, Pakistan and Afghanistan agreed to a breakthrough deal last week. Under the agreement, Afghanistan and Pakistan's military forces – with participation from NATO troops – will conduct simultaneous patrols of the border, and may also begin using more high-tech equipment to communicate with one another.
But the joint patrols – designed to bring some level of enforcement to the vast wilderness stretches of the 1,500-mile border – may not be effective if the official border crossing in Chaman remains so lax.
For 12 hours a day every day, 35,000 people pour through the Friend Gate at Chaman. Families and burqa-clad women stream from Pakistan to Afghanistan, gingerly bridging the divide in seconds. Border guards do a quick pat down, and random searches of bags, but mostly the stream continues uninterrupted, pacing through metal detectors that do not beep or produce any sounds.
Abdul Haleem, who was preparing to cross last week, says migrants can bypass even the occasional searches of pedestrians by paying 100 rupees (about $1.50) to hop on the back of amotorcycle. With young men perched on top, motorcycles roar through the checkpoint, seeming to stop for no one. As many as 4,000 motorcycles pass through Chaman every day, according to police sources. Mr. Haleem says many of them are illegally transporting people over the border.
Across town, local government officials laughed off the idea that motorcycles are taking people illegally into Afghanistan. "The motorcycle owner is just taking rent. If he is going illegally, he will be stopped," says Khan Gul, a station headquarters officer.
But other local police, sitting in the border security area, say that none of the motorcycles passing through the gate are searched – a troubling claim, since in January a suicide bomber riding on a motorcycle, apparently from Pakistan, killed 23 people on the Afghan side of the border in Spin Boldak, just four miles from Chaman.
Western media reports from Spin Boldak indicate that the same problems of corruption and lax security occur at the Afghan checkpoint there.
For now, the infiltration problem at the border is, as elsewhere inside Pakistan, a problem of intelligence and identification. "It's easy for the Taliban if they want to go and come back. They can shave their beards and change their clothes," says Mr. Khan, the police officer.
Documentation is also a problem, as many people at the border seem to have no passport. Back in Quetta, the provincial capital 70 miles to the south, the inspector general of police marveled that the documentation system was in such disarray."There should be a situation of documentation. What is the system to check the people moving into Afghanistan?" he asked rhetorically.
The Frontier Constabulary, however, denies that the Taliban are easily moving in and out, and says it arrests about 35 to 40 people a day who lack documentation. "That's totally a wrong perception. We have our ways of checking," says the head of border security, who would give his name only as Colonel Raees. He added that all vehicles and goods are searched, and that no one without proper documentation can pass into or out of Pakistan.
Minutes later, just feet from Colonel Raees's office, a man leading a group across from Afghanistan smiled sheepishly and shook his head when asked for his papers at the check post. He had none; but moments later, he and his companions passed into Pakistan, disappearing among the crowds headed for town.
Somewhere there, hidden among the dusty lanes, sympathies for the Taliban are propelling young men back into Afghanistan to lay down their lives.
Karem Mumtaz Ahmed, head of the Madina Mosque in Chaman, spoke recently of 12 men and their lethal commitment to jihad. Mr. Ahmed met them the night before their passage into Afghanistan, and said they had shaved their beards before crossing through Chaman.
"Yes, it's true, people are going to southern Afghanistan from Pakistan," he says. "The government of Pakistan is not sending its people from here. People are going by themselves.... It is the responsibility of Muslims to fight."