Do you like pakistan

Trucking in Pakistan: Taliban and raids

Iffthker Khan has been a truck driver for 18 years. A quiet, aloof man, one who speaks little and seldom laughs. Nevertheless, a big smile flits across his dark face when I ask him the one question that is so important to me. A question that I've asked so many other drivers: "Do you like your job?" This question has moved me since I traveled to Pakistan to find out how truck drivers organize their working day in one of the supposedly most dangerous countries on earth. In a country whose life is marked by attacks, bomb terror, Taliban and corruption.

"Yes, I like my job very much, even if it involves dangers!" Iffthker Khan replies seriously, then remains silent. Shortly afterwards, the 33-year-old begins to report on the attacks that make life difficult for him and his colleagues. Khan has had to look into the muzzle of a gun four times since driving trucks through Pakistan. A country twice the size of Germany, with 180 million people, many of them below the poverty line.

"There is hardly any chance to protect yourself against the robberies," explains Iffthker, "because the criminals are always developing new ideas on how to rob you. They also know exactly where you are hiding your money on the truck . "

This is in line with what other drivers have told me about the robberies. I now know that the criminals always operate as a gang and often attack trucks while they are driving. Then a vehicle sits down next to or in front of the truck on the open road and a gang member points a gun at the driver from the moving car. Pickups are often in use with the men with guns sitting on their loading area. If the driver refuses to stop, there will be shooting. It is also of no use that trucks in long-distance transport are almost always equipped with three men: two drivers and a handyman.


It is better to give in to the violence of the criminals. And yet there are a few ways to reduce the likelihood of a robbery or theft: Whenever possible, drivers form small convoys of two, three or more vehicles. Such caravans are more difficult to stop. Charged vehicles are driven around the clock. Stops to eat at a roadside restaurant are short. On the one hand, just like those in Europe, Pakistani customers do not want to wait long for loads; on the other hand, the non-stop journeys increase safety. Every man in a two-man crew spends twelve hours a day behind the wheel; six a day and six at night. The rhythm is only interrupted when it becomes known that a certain route is particularly endangered. Then there is a break at night.


When it comes to ranking in terms of danger, Pakistani truck drivers agree: the most dangerous is the Sindh province in the south of the country. This is where most of the raids happen.

The criminal scene has been changing for a few years now. Until now, drivers mostly had to live with robberies involving money, cell phones and valuables, but now the robbers are more and more interested in the truck and its cargo. Pakistani newspapers and TV stations call it Loaded Truck Snatching when they report on trucks being stopped and kidnapped at gunpoint.

The situation is particularly dire in Karachi, the capital of Sindh. In the meantime, the attacks on drivers in the city of 18 million people are already happening in broad daylight and often in front of the public. The cases of truck snatching in Karachi are steadily increasing. The situation is so precarious that, according to the daily newspaper "The Nation", business people are calling for certain industrial areas in Karachis to be equipped with surveillance cameras. This is supposed to make Loaded Truck Snatching more difficult.

Doctor Muhammad Farooq Sattar, President of the MQM, the politically most important party in Sindh, explains to me why street crime has been on the rise in Karachi for years. According to his information, around 50,000 Taliban terrorists control around thirty percent of the urban area of ​​Karachi. With mafia-like structures they extort money in all areas of life and business in order to finance their fighters in the Pakistani-Afghan border area. In recent years, a power vacuum has arisen in large areas of Karachi, which other criminals and criminal networks know how to use.


Other parts of the country, on the other hand, have become safer. The flagship of the Pakistani government for this positive development is the famous Swat Valley with its picturesque lakes in northwestern Pakistan. In 2009, the Taliban established their strict Islamic regime there. Only through a large-scale operation by the Pakistani military could the Islamists be pushed back into the rugged mountain region in Afghanistan. Jamsher Khan (photo first page), who has been transporting fruit from Hyderabad over the notorious Kyber Pass to Kabul in Afghanistan in his 41-year-old Bedford truck for 18 years, remembers with horror of this bad time.

I meet the 42-year-old in Mingora, the largest city in the Swat Valley. He has just visited his wife and six children who live in Galaam, in the farthest corner of the valley. Since the military regained control, Jamsher can reach them again without any problems and on amazingly good roads. Traces of the fighting can hardly be seen today.


Jashmer proudly shows me his truck. Like so many other Pakistani trucks, it is an absolute gem. A unique piece that is refined inside and out with finely chiseled metal sheets that have been filigree painted and glued in the most colorful colors. Craftsmen and artists must have worked on it for weeks. And in the cabin, bright, shining cloths and structures made of plastic chains round off the overall picture. There does not seem to be a place that is not decorated. This makes the old Englishman's cabin look incredibly homely. Pakistani drivers cannot imagine driving a truck without jewelry. Most of the bosses take this into account and have the vehicles designed as individually as possible for tens of thousands of rupees. There are companies in every major city that specialize in expensive conversions.

But driving life in Pakistan has a lot more to offer than just beautiful trucks. First of all, the relatively good earnings. At 12,000 to 15,000 rupees per month, the equivalent of 100 to 125 euros, this is above the Pakistani average. On top of that, up to 60 euros per month come from the daily expenses in long-distance transport. With the disadvantage, however, that drivers often do not see their families on long-distance journeys for months. It is not uncommon to be on the road for two, three or even four months in a row in Pakistan.

On the other hand, many drivers benefit from transport organizations such as the Goods Transport Association or the Goods Carriers Association. They cover hospital costs if drivers are seriously injured or pay money to the bereaved in the event of death. In Pakistan, such social benefits are more the exception than the rule. At the same time, the two large transport organizations are committed to better working conditions. Again and again they paralyze Karachi, Pakistan's most important transport center, with massive strikes, among other things to demand safer transport routes. Because dozens of drivers die every year as a result of robberies and terrorist attacks. The terrorists' favorite target: fuel shipments for NATO troops in Afghanistan. In March 2014, for example, two drivers of a convoy loaded with NATO goods were killed near Peshawar. The Taliban opened fire on the transport from a motorcycle.


"Which truck brand does the future belong to in Pakistan?" I asked this question when I visited Ghafar's Diesel Laboratory in Lahore (see box on the left). The old Bedford long-bonnets, which have been firmly rooted in the streetscape since the 1970s, or the more modern trucks à la Hino, Nissan and Mazda? The mechanics unanimously decide in favor of the Hino. From their point of view, he is the best on Pakistan's roads right now. That also means that it is resilient. Because maximum permissible total weights are rarely taken into account in Pakistan. A mechanic in Lahore describes this with the words: "Ten tons are allowed on it, but fifty can be loaded!" No wonder that so many trucks are parked in the workshops and axles, wheel bearings and differentials are being repaired.

If drivers or their clients comply with weight limits, then it is definitely when driving on the modern four-lane highways, of which there are around 700 kilometers in Pakistan. For one, because trucks are often weighed by the National Highway Authority before entering the toll highways; in the event of overloading, the highway drive is refused and time-consuming detours are the result. On the other hand, the Pakistani police are waiting there at weighing and control stations. Every ton too much officially costs 1000 rupees.


Indeed, the sentence in Pakistan is negotiable. This is made possible by the ubiquity of corruption. It may sound positive at first, but drivers and transporters actually suffer massively from the downsides. Drivers are often held up for no reason and have to pay fines for offenses they have not committed. Or police officers levy road tolls and let the money wander into their own pockets. For example, every 20-foot container that is supposed to cross the city limits of Islamabad costs 2,000 rubles extra. I find out from the owner of a large international transport company that I can meet in Islamabad.


And what does the future look like for the road transport industry? After 2014 not really positive at first. With the withdrawal of NATO troops from neighboring Afghanistan, the lucrative orders to bring NATO goods from Karachi's port to Kabul in Afghanistan are also lost. It will certainly not remain without effects on the transport market and its prices. Hopefully this development will not have a negative impact on the wages of the people who form an important pillar of the Pakistani economy - Pakistan's intrepid and high-performing drivers!