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Taliban friend's letters to the enemy

  • 12 February 2010

In the tribal areas of Pakistan, close to the Afghan border, Abdullah Khan, a friend and unashamed supporter of the Pakistani Taliban, gives me a present.

Previously his gifts to me have been fine embroidered pillows or bright dresses for my wife, stitched by Afghan refugees with mirrors and sequins. Today I am surprised when he hands me a rectangular box the size of a cigarette pack.

Slowly I open it.

Lying on a bed of shiny white fabric is a military service medal on a ribbon. Inscribed are the words; 'US Army — Afghanistan Campaign' over an etched map of the country. For a second I am confused. How did Khan come by these?

'Just 200 rupees a piece', he tells me. It's the equivalent of a few dollars. Suddenly I realise what I've been given. The Taliban have for many years been hijacking convoys of supplies arriving in Karachi and up the Khyber Pass, bound for the foreign forces in Kabul. These are, of course, the spoils of war. They are not limited to medals either.

'If you like, we have combat boots, trousers, shirts, compasses, water bottles, bed sheets, kit bags, mosquito nets, badges ... the daggers are the most expensive, really, they are very good ones.'

Tribal bazaars of the frontier are flooded with these items and 'expensive' generally means nothing over five US dollars. Entire containers are snatched on the journey up the Indus Highway on a regular basis and there's little the authorities can do about it.

With the exception of bullet-proof jackets and night vision goggles, prized among insurgents on both sides of the Durand Line, piles of American goods are heavily discounted. Abdullah Khan has amassed quite a collection.

'My favourite', he tells me, 'are the letters.'

Seeing me shake my head, he elaborates.

'Unopened mail to US soldiers from their loved ones, piles of them I see and some I read with my own eyes. Oh, those poor young men out on battle field, not knowing if girlfriends have left them for another man, how forgotten they must feel!'

For a moment Khan almost sounds sympathetic, until he gives a wicked chuckle and slaps me on the back. Anything that demoralises the enemy, including theft of their personal letters, thrills the Afghan resistance.

Nearby in the Darra Bazaar about 40 km south of Peshawar (pictured), a town where weapons are manufactured from scrap metal and smuggled arms sold cheaply, US M4 machine