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A Travel Diary from Afghanistan: Kabul/Jalalabad, 23 September 2014, Day 2

Jalalabad, Picture: Harald Fuhr

Jalalabad, Picture: Harald Fuhr

Today, the second day of our trip, we fly to Jalalabad. The city has about 250,000 inhabitants and is situated near the border with Pakistan. The legendary Khyber Pass, the road from Kabul to Pakistan, runs through the city. However, we’re not traveling by car because the Risk Management Office (RMO), the organization in charge of managing security for all German humanitarian services in Afghanistan, is happier when people go by plane.

We fly with UNHAS, a small United Nations airline operating in different countries worldwide. It provides air services for areas with no or poor air traffic to support UN humanitarian assistance. UNHAS has its own terminal in Kabul Airport, actually a small barracks-like building but, as usual, it’s heavily guarded. They use sniffer dogs to check your hand luggage – you’re not allowed to take more on board with you anyway, which is actually quite reassuring. In front of the terminal desk is a small, waist-high box with sand in which you are supposed to place your weapon.

In Afghanistan, UNHAS operates with two aircraft, one 37-seater and one 19-seat Beechcraft, which we flew in, and a helicopter. Altogether, UNHAS provides regular air services to 12 Afghan cities, although they don’t run every day. During the first six months, they transported over 10,000 passengers. UNHAS is a service reserved (almost) exclusively for UN personnel and employees of other aid agencies - there are more than 160 humanitarian entities in Afghanistan. The flight is pleasant; the plane is small, more like a small coach really. We’re in direct contact with our two pilots, two nice young guys, possibly from the US. We fly over the rugged mountains and the barren desert and wonder why there is so much trouble in this poor, forbidding, and harassed country. 

After 30 minutes, we get off our “flying coach” at Jalalabad. The official vehicles (mostly Toyota SUVs) waiting to pick up are just a few meters away. A big, light blue UN sign dominates the scene, but there is also a red American fire engine, an armored transport vehicle, and several pick-ups with cargo platforms full of armed soldiers turn the corner. The city reminds you of India and Pakistan: It is a very lively place. There are tuk-tuks everywhere, and some of them are richly decorated. The Taj Mahal Guesthouse, where we’re staying, is located in a dead-end street and is heavily guarded. The undersides of vehicles are always inspected with mirrors because of incidents with limpets. The guesthouse is nothing fancy; in fact it’s more like a youth hostel. 


We’re visiting the University and the Faculty of Administrative Sciences tomorrow to discuss latest developments with the Dean, the Chancellor, and other colleagues. In the afternoon, we plan to give a couple of short lectures. We’re dressed like Afghans so as not to attract too much attention. Prof. Fuhr and I are wearing a traditional shalwar kameez, a long shirt over loose trousers. This is what Karzai always wears under his green vest. Mine is a typical sand color and Prof. Fuhr’s is black. Our two female colleagues are modestly dressed in traditional long dresses with a shawl, ensuring their legs, arms and head are covered. Over 90% of Jalalabad’s population is Pashtun. You hardly see any women on the streets during the day, but when you do they’re all wearing blue burkas. This takes some getting used to. Progress here will require a strong, centralized and efficient public administration. To contribute to Afghanistan’s development – that’s why we’re here.

Text: Prof. Dr. Werner Jann - Professor of Political Science, Administration, and Organization at the Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences of the University of Potsdam. 
Online-Editing: Agnes Bressa, Translation: Pearl Wallace
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