- The Washington Times - Monday, January 14, 2002

JALALABAD, Afghanistan Two machine gun-toting guards fidget calmly outside the plain entrance of Mohammed Yousaf's warehouse in downtown Jalalabad, giving little indication of the commotion within.
Inside, 50 barefoot laborers faces slick with sweat unload trucks full of blue and white sacks of stolen U.N. grain at a dead run. Others slice open the bags and efficiently repackage them in plain burlap for sale in the city's bazaars.
Overseeing his operation from a drafty office on the second floor, the fat Jalalabad wheat dealer proclaims, "I can't make any money buying wheat. I have to pay the [private relief organizations] to get it for me."
When asked which relief groups known here as nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs supplied him with wheat, Mr. Yousaf smiled and said, "All of them. If we can't do business with the directors, then we talk to the drivers."
The truck drivers don't have much choice. The fall of the Taliban has created a power vacuum, leaving Jalalabad's uncertain government wracked by the struggles of three different warlords competing for power and resources.
Food is one of those resources, and life is measured by it. A man can be killed for about 10 pounds of grain.
One driver said, "Sometimes [the warlords] stop us outside of Jalalabad with some gunmen and an empty truck; other times I drop my wheat off in Jalalabad and see the same people take the wheat from where we unload it the NGOs sign for it."
Other drivers said gunmen have simply commandeered their vehicles.
Haneef Ata, deputy director of the International Rescue Committee in Afghanistan (IRC), said killings over grain are a routine occurrence in Jalalabad.
"We just try to stay out of it, and that is becoming increasingly difficult. If things don't change, I can't see how we can continue."
Things have become so bad that the United Nations suspended the shipments this month and appealed for protection from the region's security forces.
Until now, more than 50 trucks a day, representing some 1,750 metric tons of wheat, have been making the three-hour drive to Jalalabad from Peshawar, Pakistan. Fewer than half arrived with more than 60 percent of their wheat, interviews with dozens of truck drivers revealed.
Because U.N. grain is virtually the only import into Jalalabad, a new class of warlord-sponsored entrepreneurs have sprouted to form their own NGOs and "distribute" the grain themselves on the black market.
When these new NGOs haven't been able to meet their warlord's quotas by tricking U.N. officials, they have had the shipments hijacked. So much grain has been stolen that markets in Jalalabad are flooded, and prices have dropped by 40 percent.
Since the international staff of the larger, foreign NGOs were evacuated for security concerns after September 11, the local staff of many otherwise reputable NGOs have gone into business for themselves. It is often unclear whether they have gone into business with the warlords willingly, or whether they have bowed to pressure.
A frustrated staffer in the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was overheard saying, "We have given these people second-rate aid and third-rate personnel for decades. Of course they're stealing the food. What else is here?"
As bad as things are in Jalalabad, conditions are worse in Mazar-e-Sharif.
Like Jalalabad, Mazar-e-Sharif is divided among three competing warlords whose rivalry dates from the early 1990s: Gen. Rashid Dostum, who represents the Uzbeks; Commander Mohaqaq, representing the Hazara tribes; and Commander Uftad Ata, who represents the Tajiks and supports the faction led by former President Burhanuddin Rabbani.
According to one IRC official who declined to be named for fear of reprisals, "It is absolutely the same situation as before, except they have not yet launched a full-scale attack for fear of the U.S."
There is constant concern that grain shipments from Mazar-e-Sharif to neighboring villages will be hijacked. One local warlord, Dr. Hekmat of Haza-e-Wahdat, has twice "liberated" major grain shipments for his faction, first in early December and a second time this month. On Jan. 7, Dr. Hekmat, who uses only one name, sent armed men to meet the IRC convoy, removed the drivers at gunpoint and stole 130 tons of wheat.
Reached via satellite phone at an undisclosed location, Dr. Hekmat revealed through an interpreter that "many receive this grain; we do not."
"Dostum, Mohaqaq and Ata all benefit from distributions. Why should we not?" he said.

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