Murphy's Law: January 11, 2002


Reporters who went to the Afghan War report that prices charged Western visitors doubled or tripled during October, not due to increased danger but due to the fact that journalists with expense accounts had shown up and everybody wanted to cash in. Getting from any town in Afghanistan 20 kilometers down the road to another town was likely to cost $100 each way. Travel from Khoja Bahouddin to Feyzabad (100 kilometers) cost $500 per reporter each way; going another 150 kilometers to Kabul was $8000 per person (here, due to the increased danger). Reporters who obtained Tajik visas while in the US found out that they had to purchase a whole new visa upon arrival, paying extra if they wanted to cross into Afghanistan and even more for press accreditations. The only practical currency was American, and only the new "large picture" types were accepted (since half of the older US banknotes circulating in that region are counterfeits produced by Iran; these are no longer accepted by anyone except commercial banks who can identify and reject counterfeits). A bundle of Afghan banknotes two inches thick was worth $10 American. Aid groups found that their costs had skyrocketed as every government official, local warlord, and independent contractor raised his rates for just about everything. Truckloads of aid sat idle waiting for vaguely defined clearances to be issued by Tajik and Russian border guards. Some aid groups bought supplies from Russian or Tajik dealers, then could never get the border crossing clearances and had to sell the supplies back to the same dealers for one-fourth of what they paid.--Stephen V Cole


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