- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 13, 2001

KABUL, Afghanistan The treacherous, bandit-dominated pass linking Kabul and Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan may now be the nation's most poignant monument to a generation of past chaos even while it reveals the obstacles to a stable future.
Traveling the route, where four Western journalists were murdered last month by still-unidentified assailants, is a journey through crumbling infrastructure amid a lack of security that will challenge Afghans and the international community as they seek to rebuild the country.
The first obvious peril on this punishing, 80-mile ride the only passable road between Jalalabad and the capital is the rutted roadbed itself, with its sharp turns and precipitous descents. But the unseen danger lies within the barren mountain passes and behind the flaking shale slopes that shadow the road from above.
The United Nations estimates there are 10 million small arms and light weapons among the 26 million people of Afghanistan.
The collapse of authority that eased the Taliban's rise to power in the mid-1990s has re-emerged after their fall, and many of those using the road between Jalalabad and Kabul no longer feel safe.
"People said that traveling the road was dangerous, so we were afraid all along the way," said 20-year-old Ahmed Farid, whose family has returned to Kabul for the first time since the U.S.-led coalition started bombing the city in October.
On a recent wintry afternoon, taxis, buses and heavy trucks cautiously rumbled over this dusty road.
At least one private aid group has been using the road to deliver humanitarian aid to Kabul.
Paul Barker, CARE International's Afghanistan director, said 50 trucks and three separate convoys have reached Kabul in the past two weeks.
"We have been able to bring wheat, lentils, winter clothes, quilts, tarps, soap and water containers to about 5,000 vulnerable families in Kabul," Mr. Barker said. "None of our cars has been looted so far, so we have planned to continue to use the road to deliver supplies through winter."
Abdul Wasai, 23, a taxi driver from Jalalabad, said he has driven to Kabul about 10 times in the past month unharmed.
"God willing, I have not been robbed or injured," Mr. Wasai said through an interpreter while waiting for a fare in Jalalabad.
Mr. Wasai, who charges $30 to drive to Kabul, said he would not make the trip after sunset. "I would not take $100 to drive that road after dark," he said.
Three men with thick beards and woolen shawls stood in their bare feet praying at the base of a steep rock formation at the Kyber Gorge, where the four journalists were killed last month.
Across the road really no more than a path gouged from rock and sand two small boys were walking above the Kyber River selling cauliflower.
There was no security checkpoint in the area and no armed guard in sight.
The self-proclaimed government of the eastern Shura province, led by Haji Qadir, controls Jalalabad and the surrounding Nangarhar province, while the Northern Alliance controls Kabul. Neither appears to be providing security at the gorge, on the border between the two jurisdictions.
As the road approaches Kabul, it straightens out and is smoothly paved. AK-47-toting Northern Alliance soldiers in camouflaged uniforms man a checkpoint on the edge of the city where a thin metal chain hangs across the road.
Shells of buildings, hit by American bombs before the Taliban fled, line the sides of the roads approaching Kabul, including a U.N. anti-land mine office, where three workers were killed.
Samiullah Jabarkhil, 18, an Afghan who has lived most of his life in Peshawar, Pakistan, said he is going to Kabul for the first time and was not concerned about the lack of security along the road.
"I think that it is a problem only for foreigners," he said as he waited in a taxi by the gorge.
His brother, Yousef, a former guerrilla fighter who helped repel Soviet occupiers in the 1980s, was less comfortable about traveling along the road.
"We need to arrive in Kabul before it is dark," Yousef Jabarkhil said.

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