Poppies, checkpoints and the secret service

After leaving the vicinity of Kunduz I started to settle back into a rhythm, although I found I was going to be stopped at literally every checkpoint ever created on my route, which I just had to get used to. I got stopped about 5 times a day at checkpoints and they without fail always searched through my belongings and they would take thier time. One night I got caught out between two big towns come sunset, the soldiers at the previous checkpoint at the beginning of the first town kept me there, searching my things and asking me questions out of pure curiosity. One thing I had heard when people were telling me about Afghanistan was to make sure I was off the roads at night, because they become the taliban’s. As a result I had to improvise and camp off the road up a hill which was a struggle to get to and wasn’t too hidden, but it was already dark by this time and I was just grateful to find somewhere at all to camp. Unfortunately in the morning I was woken up by the sunrise and found to my astonishment, the hill I had slept on was indeed a poppy field… with this realization I had some breakfast and decided to hastily take my leave as men with their goats started popping out from every direction.

Eventually I got to near Baghlan and got stopped at another checkpoint which was made up like no other normal checkpoint I had seen so far, this one consisted of a small derelict building and a rug on the floor next to it, with several military jeeps scattered on either side of the road. they spoke no English, Hindi or Punjabi but as I slowly came closer they asked me to take a seat and have some tea while they searched my things and asked me some questions. They stopped a number of buses and after a few, found someone that could speak Punjabi and informed me I would have to go to see their commander. So began the age old journey I would make many times in Afghanistan, multiple km’s back to the previous checkpoint. Where I was held 30km back at a base for 1 hour and questioned, which consisted of my parents names their nationalities and then my basic life story. They decided it was time to leave and that I was going with them, at this point I’m starting to get nervous as there are several men in the room some armed and some not, who are arguing, presumably about me. Up until then it had all been smiles and pleasantries. At one point before leaving handcuffed by one angry individual, which were speedily taken off by another and then taken to another place with my passport and phone being held. They took me to a base back in Kunduz and an afghan doctor who spoke English who happened to be passing through the complex and was a friend of the commander, told me they were wanting to deport me because it was too dangerous. After a long period of back and forth we came to a compromise. We agreed if I could sign a disclaimer they would think about letting me walk. Obviously I instantly agreed and they released me. They asked me to sign it and then someone else had to sign it. All 4 men argued as to who was going to countersign it, eventually they agreed to all sign it. As soon as it was done suddenly everyone was happy and they released me, no offer of a life back or anything, this was beginning to happen a lot. As we left the building in the courtyard everyone realized it was the evening by the time they decided to let me go and one of the men took pity on me and said he would drive me to a hotel. I showed him where I stayed before and he was more the happy to take me there. As I pulled up to the hotel, the familiar faces of the security didn’t look surprised to see me and welcomed me. The man who drove me there gave me his sons telephone number and told me that he spoke great English and to give him a call in the morning and he would help me get back to just before Baghlan.

Later that night the hotel manager wanted to meet me. as he was told I was brought back from the road by officials. When I explained he found it funny and added me on facebook. The conversation soon turned to the dangers and he told me his story of his encounter with the Taliban. he told me he had helped some troops years ago and that a year ago he was ambushed on the road by two pickup trucks that ran his car off the road and after threatened them for all the money he had made otherwise they would kill him, me thinking that was it, asked him, “so then they let you go to presumably go get the money?”… That wasn’t the case, they shot him once in the shoulder there and then on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. After our chat I made my way back to my room concerned about what I had heard and tried to relaxed readying myself for a busy day to follow.

Later had a knock on the door and I was asked to return back to the managers office where two men dressed in dark coloured suits sat, being dined by the manager. The manager before, an authoritative figure, in the presence of these men was relegated to just a host, making sure these two men were happy with their tea and food. As I edged closer to them in the managers office slightly hesitant at first, the manager told me they were agents from the NDS (national directive of security, I would later be told by people they basically worked like the mafia). They were told about me today and wanted to tell me that they couldn’t let me walk anymore. With the help of the manager translating they warned me about locals working for the Taliban and the road at night in the Baghlan region. I reassured them that I knew all this already and the only option to me was to offer them the same deal I made with the ANCOP just hours ago. I offered to write a waiver and they agreed. although this disclaimer included a lovely thumb print. They brought their own ink.

 

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