One Wild Journey, One Crazy Couple, One Life to Live
Coincidentally, two articles, To cut Afghan red tape, bribing is the norm – The Washington Post and Kabul’s ‘Car Guantánamo,’ Where Vehicles Rot and Trust Goes to Die – NYTimes.com, were published this week.
It seems even the journalists in Afghanistan are trying to warn us about the perils that may lie ahead in our attempts to drive our Bug out of here. According to the Washington Post story, it is essential to pay bribes to the traffic department, which is quoted as possibly “the most bloated of the country’s nascent bureaucracies”. The author states that if you want a vehicle registration, you’ll need 27 separate signatures. What happened to the new streamlined process of 5 signatures that I just blogged about?! Apparently the traffic department did not get the memo. This is not surprising, given that a coordinated attack involving at least three suicide bombers and a powerful car bomb took aim at the headquarters of the Kabul traffic department in late January. I would imagine the department was a bit chaotic after that.
At the time of the attack I thought the reason the traffic department was hit was because it is located close to an American training center or another valuable target and that they were not the actual target themselves. I mean, really, who would want to harm traffic police!?
Upon reflection (after reading the Times and Post articles), it is quite possible that traffic cops have had their fair share of run ins with the Taliban or other armed opposition groups. By the sounds of it, the probability that a few insurgents have lost their potentially lethal vehicles due to an expired license or registration is quite high. As the majority of regular Afghan citizens are feeling malevolent toward the government because they need to wait weeks or months and pay several bribes along the way to get their car registered, there is no doubt that someone leaning toward anti-government activity could be tipped over when their car ends up in Kabul’s Guantánamo.
According to the Times article, Kabul’s Guantánamo is where cars go to die (or I assume be shipped off to family and friends of government officials for a small price or future favour) when registrations and licensing are not in order. This is not a fate I want for the Bug – not only because I love the Bug and would hate to see it stripped of its parts and left to rot (no one in their right mind would want the Bug – even as a gift), but also because that would be a quick end to our planned trip from Kabul to Cork. I can’t see myself waiting, in sub-zero weather, outside the ringed razor-wired fence of Kabul’s Guantánamo in order to watch the guards sip tea and laugh at me and while I long for the Bug and refuse to pay $1,600 in bribes, as was asked of one man featured in the article who still does not have his car back.
Given the seemingly inevitable fate of the Bug if we do not get the papers in order, we have asked our own “Munir” to help us with the registration process. He has informed us that our registration should be in order by March 10. That is less than three weeks – we may still have enough time to apply for our Carnet de Passage! As exciting as that may be, it saddens me to think we may very well be contributing to the corruption that eats away at the government systems in Afghansitan. I wonder if that contribution will override any of the good we have done here in the last five years. I hope not.