Voices: A very long road trip in Afghanistan
“During my 25 years as a driver with UNOPS, I have seen the office grow under 14 different directors; I have helped recruit nearly 200 drivers; and I was kidnapped by the Taliban and held for 45 days. Despite having done this job for so long, my wife and six children still check in to make sure I have reached my destination.” -
Taj Mohammad Wakily,
I started driving for UNOPS in 1989 in Peshawar, Pakistan, before moving to Jalalabad, in east Afghanistan and finally the capital, Kabul, where I know the roads best. I wake up at 4:45 a.m. every day to collect my armoured UN four-wheel drive and make my way to the project site. On the road, I am always aware of my surroundings. I am constantly looking out the front, the back and to the sides of the vehicle, avoiding military convoys, which are often targeted, and generally checking for anything that seems suspicious. In November 2014, there were 11 suicide bombings in Kabul over the course of three weeks, so security is a major concern.
During a mission in the north of the country in 1992, my UNOPS colleagues wanted to stay overnight in a particular place that I thought to be unsafe. “This place isn’t good,” I said, having seen a group of men talking and looking at us strangely. I wanted to turn back to where we had come from, but my colleagues convinced me I was being too cautious. At 3 a.m., when we woke up to start our journey, there were six robbers waiting for us with guns. They wanted money and threatened us. Wanting to protect my passengers, I said, “If you want to kill us, kill me, I am ready. But don’t hurt the foreigners.” We managed to get away and my colleagues apologized for not heeding my advice.
Another time, the Taliban kidnapped me and five other people. After being treated and fed poorly for 45 days, two of the Taliban’s commanders were injured in a battle. They agreed to release us if we drove the commanders to Pakistan and we took their offer.
Just weeks ago, I was driving with a colleague and witnessed a bus explode near Kabul University. We quickly turned up a side street to avoid the heated attack that was underway. After many near misses, my co-workers see me as a sort of talisman, but it also has something to do with the fact that I constantly try my best to mitigate risk. I always lock the doors and won’t let my passengers out of the car if I’m uneasy about the safety situation.
I like my job as a driver because I enjoy talking with people, and sharing stories and laughter on the way to our destination. In my 25 years, I have seen UNOPS become increasingly involved in the reconstruction efforts of this country, working hard alongside the Government of Afghanistan to help address our problems. People know UNOPS by name here.