Fruits of accidental fortune

Published July 4, 2011
Chaman Town ? The border town of Chaman in the Balochistan province, a landscape of biblical mud-walled houses and streets dozing in midday heat. The spare architecture of the town reflects the sun with a blinding intensity, no trees to cast a shadow or grass to offer relief to the sun-scalded eye. All day and all night, the streets of the rugged, dusty town on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border rumble with the traffic of heavy tankers and trucks, bound for Afghanistan with a cargo of oil, military hardware and suppli
Chaman Town ? The border town of Chaman in the Balochistan province, a landscape of biblical mud-walled houses and streets dozing in midday heat. The spare architecture of the town reflects the sun with a blinding intensity, no trees to cast a shadow or grass to offer relief to the sun-scalded eye. All day and all night, the streets of the rugged, dusty town on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border rumble with the traffic of heavy tankers and trucks, bound for Afghanistan with a cargo of oil, military hardware and suppli
Through the Khojak Pass ? Before it enters Chaman, the traffic bringing Nato supplies has to traverse through the turns and twists of Khojak Pass in the Suleiman mountain range. The road to Chaman, bone-breaking to begin with but made worse over the years by the heavy trucks loaded with tons of cargo is a hazard for the semitrailers and tankers, far too long and heavy to negotiate the narrow mountain gullies and bottlenecks. They often get stuck on a narrow turn, blocking the road for hours. In 2003, the Asian Deve
Through the Khojak Pass ? Before it enters Chaman, the traffic bringing Nato supplies has to traverse through the turns and twists of Khojak Pass in the Suleiman mountain range. The road to Chaman, bone-breaking to begin with but made worse over the years by the heavy trucks loaded with tons of cargo is a hazard for the semitrailers and tankers, far too long and heavy to negotiate the narrow mountain gullies and bottlenecks. They often get stuck on a narrow turn, blocking the road for hours. In 2003, the Asian Deve
Help at Hand ? When tankers and containers come through the rugged Khojak Pass, the truck engine often stalls as the cargo is far too heavy for an uphill road. Last year, a truck fell into a ravine while negotiating a turn, killing the driver and three people. But assistance is now at hand to help drivers maneuver the hazards of the route. At perilous turns, Chaman residents stand ready to lend a hand with tractors, pulling the tankers up the hill. While the tankers negotiate the road safely, for the tractor owner
Help at Hand ? When tankers and containers come through the rugged Khojak Pass, the truck engine often stalls as the cargo is far too heavy for an uphill road. Last year, a truck fell into a ravine while negotiating a turn, killing the driver and three people. But assistance is now at hand to help drivers maneuver the hazards of the route. At perilous turns, Chaman residents stand ready to lend a hand with tractors, pulling the tankers up the hill. While the tankers negotiate the road safely, for the tractor owner
Entering Chaman ? A convoy of oil tankers arrive into Chaman plains, the fag end of a perilous 700 km journey from Karachi to Kandahar. The tanker drivers are men of meager means. Taking fuel from the port-town of Karachi in Pakistan to Kandahar in landlocked Afghanistan, they make Rs 10,000 ($120) a month. Besides running the risk of crash on mountainous roads, the journey often brings attacks from Taliban that have intensified in recent months. According to the Frontier Corps Balochistan, some 27,000 trucks passe
Entering Chaman ? A convoy of oil tankers arrive into Chaman plains, the fag end of a perilous 700 km journey from Karachi to Kandahar. The tanker drivers are men of meager means. Taking fuel from the port-town of Karachi in Pakistan to Kandahar in landlocked Afghanistan, they make Rs 10,000 ($120) a month. Besides running the risk of crash on mountainous roads, the journey often brings attacks from Taliban that have intensified in recent months. According to the Frontier Corps Balochistan, some 27,000 trucks passe
Men racing to the scene of spill ? First came the rumour of an oil tanker bound for Afghanistan toppling off the road. Then came men speeding to the scene on motorcycles with riders sitting precariously balancing several empty gallons in both hands.
Men racing to the scene of spill ? First came the rumour of an oil tanker bound for Afghanistan toppling off the road. Then came men speeding to the scene on motorcycles with riders sitting precariously balancing several empty gallons in both hands.
Children Come Running ? Scrambling children, holding on to pots and gallons as they negotiate the furrows of an ancient landscape where the only evidence of modernity is electricity poles and cars ? forlorn specks of color floating in a vast, monotonous sea of dun marked by mud houses and compounds.
Children Come Running ? Scrambling children, holding on to pots and gallons as they negotiate the furrows of an ancient landscape where the only evidence of modernity is electricity poles and cars ? forlorn specks of color floating in a vast, monotonous sea of dun marked by mud houses and compounds.
As do old ? The rugged, dusty town of Chaman reacts to the news of spill like a village to a fair. The baked, deserted streets disgorge men, women and children who bring blue and yellow plastic gallons in wheelbarrows, donkey carts, bicycles and in case of Levies ? the border police that is supposed to protect the Nato supplies to Afghanistan ? flat bed trucks.
As do old ? The rugged, dusty town of Chaman reacts to the news of spill like a village to a fair. The baked, deserted streets disgorge men, women and children who bring blue and yellow plastic gallons in wheelbarrows, donkey carts, bicycles and in case of Levies ? the border police that is supposed to protect the Nato supplies to Afghanistan ? flat bed trucks.
First of the prospectors ? With the trusty town grapevine abuzz, first of the prospectors converge at the scene of the spill where a lumbering tanker has run into a ditch in the road, upended by the weight of its enormous cargo. The war in Afghanistan is a gas-guzzler ? It takes 100 tankers or 6m liters of fuel to keep soldiers fighting for a day. Among those arriving at the scene are children from the nearest villages, men on bikes and flatbed trucks and tractor trolleys rattling with gallons.
First of the prospectors ? With the trusty town grapevine abuzz, first of the prospectors converge at the scene of the spill where a lumbering tanker has run into a ditch in the road, upended by the weight of its enormous cargo. The war in Afghanistan is a gas-guzzler ? It takes 100 tankers or 6m liters of fuel to keep soldiers fighting for a day. Among those arriving at the scene are children from the nearest villages, men on bikes and flatbed trucks and tractor trolleys rattling with gallons.
A desert blooms ? A desolate landscape blooms with colour and commotion. To the uninitiated, it appears the town has struck water ? Chaman after all is a thirsty place, water made scarce by decades of drought and sharing with Afghan refugees. Only, you realise, it is gold, as the heady odor of petrol hits you.
A desert blooms ? A desolate landscape blooms with colour and commotion. To the uninitiated, it appears the town has struck water ? Chaman after all is a thirsty place, water made scarce by decades of drought and sharing with Afghan refugees. Only, you realise, it is gold, as the heady odor of petrol hits you.
The weak fill in the sludge ? At the spill-scene, it is a beehive. A circle of influence surrounds the toppled tanker. On the outer limits are the weak, young boys and girls, at a pool of glistening sludge ? oil mixed with mud where a stream of petrol flows into a hollow in the ground.
The weak fill in the sludge ? At the spill-scene, it is a beehive. A circle of influence surrounds the toppled tanker. On the outer limits are the weak, young boys and girls, at a pool of glistening sludge ? oil mixed with mud where a stream of petrol flows into a hollow in the ground.
Greasy hands ? Children, their baggy pants hitched up to their knees, young boys and girls bend down to fill cups of greasy hands with the slush and pour it into pots. They eerily resemble children forced into forsaking gold in a distant land.
Greasy hands ? Children, their baggy pants hitched up to their knees, young boys and girls bend down to fill cups of greasy hands with the slush and pour it into pots. They eerily resemble children forced into forsaking gold in a distant land.
Soaking in oil ? A young man glistens from top to toe, his clothes soaked, his hair matted with gasoline. He fiddles with a tap on an aluminum canister that he has somehow managed to fill.
Soaking in oil ? A young man glistens from top to toe, his clothes soaked, his hair matted with gasoline. He fiddles with a tap on an aluminum canister that he has somehow managed to fill.
Pots of Gold ? From villages along the road, poor labour turned shrewd oil prospectors are the first to arrive. Oil tankers tipping over frequently in folds along the road have put the locals wise to the fruits of accidental fortune in the absence of opportunity and employment. They come in droves. And when they run out of gallons to fill, they bring pots and pans.
Pots of Gold ? From villages along the road, poor labour turned shrewd oil prospectors are the first to arrive. Oil tankers tipping over frequently in folds along the road have put the locals wise to the fruits of accidental fortune in the absence of opportunity and employment. They come in droves. And when they run out of gallons to fill, they bring pots and pans.
Man atop the tanker ? Standing on the toppled oil tanker a man indifferently surveys the roads and landscape, while at his feet a crowd jostles to get close to the spigots from which flows oil. Before district authorities and levies could reach the scene of accident, the spill-prospectors had sent out the word through mobile phones for everyone to converge at the scene. And what an efficient network it is too. By the time the levies turn up, there is an edgy, clamouring swarm of people buzzing at the site. The pros
Man atop the tanker ? Standing on the toppled oil tanker a man indifferently surveys the roads and landscape, while at his feet a crowd jostles to get close to the spigots from which flows oil. Before district authorities and levies could reach the scene of accident, the spill-prospectors had sent out the word through mobile phones for everyone to converge at the scene. And what an efficient network it is too. By the time the levies turn up, there is an edgy, clamouring swarm of people buzzing at the site. The pros
The strong surround the tanker ? Close to the tanker are men, strong and determined to have their gallons filled. Here the oil is pure, compared to the mud-mixed sludge of the pool. It gushes, all sparkling silver, out of spouts of the upended tanker. Men are glued to the body of tanker in a tight knot ? like iron-shavings to a magnet they cling to the spouts in a heaving mass. In the confusion of push and pull, more oil is spilled than filled.
The strong surround the tanker ? Close to the tanker are men, strong and determined to have their gallons filled. Here the oil is pure, compared to the mud-mixed sludge of the pool. It gushes, all sparkling silver, out of spouts of the upended tanker. Men are glued to the body of tanker in a tight knot ? like iron-shavings to a magnet they cling to the spouts in a heaving mass. In the confusion of push and pull, more oil is spilled than filled.
A fight breaks out ? And then the inevitable happens. Limbs fly as a fight breaks out, men bristling and shoving. But just as quickly, bodies disentangle and return to the more pressing business of filling pots.
A fight breaks out ? And then the inevitable happens. Limbs fly as a fight breaks out, men bristling and shoving. But just as quickly, bodies disentangle and return to the more pressing business of filling pots.
Fuel for fight ? Elsewhere at the scene, a brawl ensues over access to oil. The prospectors are many, the gallons they bring even more. Everybody wants a share of the spill and the competition takes on an ugly aspect.
Fuel for fight ? Elsewhere at the scene, a brawl ensues over access to oil. The prospectors are many, the gallons they bring even more. Everybody wants a share of the spill and the competition takes on an ugly aspect.
The Evening Crash ? Two crashes in a day, too good to be true. A family of 20 people can easily make Rs 10,000 ($120) from a spill when wages from labour hardly amounts to Rs 3000 ($36) a month. With three spills happening a month on the average, returns from selling oil are a windfall for a family in a town where local economy is fueled by cross-border smuggling. The Chaman dwellers won?t invade Iraq for oil but a crashed oil-tanker is fair game. When news of the spill is reported on TV, it says ?Chaman folk make
The Evening Crash ? Two crashes in a day, too good to be true. A family of 20 people can easily make Rs 10,000 ($120) from a spill when wages from labour hardly amounts to Rs 3000 ($36) a month. With three spills happening a month on the average, returns from selling oil are a windfall for a family in a town where local economy is fueled by cross-border smuggling. The Chaman dwellers won?t invade Iraq for oil but a crashed oil-tanker is fair game. When news of the spill is reported on TV, it says ?Chaman folk make
Levies get tough ? At the evening spill-scene, the Levies, already present at the afternoon spill, quickly took control of the tanker. That didn?t keep the people away. They surged in a wave of limbs and gallons, blocking the road, filling buckets from oil pools in the ground. In the presence of the press, the Levies are restrained, not hitting or firing in the air but brandishing batons that they wave with intent to use them. When they hit, they aim for the gallons instead of the men holding them. ?Bang, bang, ban
Levies get tough ? At the evening spill-scene, the Levies, already present at the afternoon spill, quickly took control of the tanker. That didn?t keep the people away. They surged in a wave of limbs and gallons, blocking the road, filling buckets from oil pools in the ground. In the presence of the press, the Levies are restrained, not hitting or firing in the air but brandishing batons that they wave with intent to use them. When they hit, they aim for the gallons instead of the men holding them. ?Bang, bang, ban
Crane to the rescue ? Close to the evening spill, a crane arrives to tow away the empty tanker from the spill in the afternoon. There are petrol fumes in the air. The camera flash illuminates a constellation of vapors catching the light like hundreds of fireflies glowing against the night's black shroud. What if someone lit a cigarette or a match? In a 2009 airstrike in Kanduz, Afghanistan, American jets called in by German forces after the Taliban allegedly captured two oil tankers bombed the site and killed over
Crane to the rescue ? Close to the evening spill, a crane arrives to tow away the empty tanker from the spill in the afternoon. There are petrol fumes in the air. The camera flash illuminates a constellation of vapors catching the light like hundreds of fireflies glowing against the night's black shroud. What if someone lit a cigarette or a match? In a 2009 airstrike in Kanduz, Afghanistan, American jets called in by German forces after the Taliban allegedly captured two oil tankers bombed the site and killed over
Banging gallons and drums ? The night, cold and windy, is as festive as the day with excitement and a hint of danger should someone get up to a mischief. Along the roadside, people form a teetering wall, getting restless in their ranks. Some start beating barrels and gallons like war drums. Boom, boom, boom, echoes the night. The Levies are agitated, the people persevering in a clamouring presence at the scene, not leaving.
Banging gallons and drums ? The night, cold and windy, is as festive as the day with excitement and a hint of danger should someone get up to a mischief. Along the roadside, people form a teetering wall, getting restless in their ranks. Some start beating barrels and gallons like war drums. Boom, boom, boom, echoes the night. The Levies are agitated, the people persevering in a clamouring presence at the scene, not leaving.
The Golden Goose ? ?The Nato supplies that transit through Pakistan is a goose that lays golden eggs,? says a journalist at Chaman. The logistics companies benefit from it, the drivers benefit, the people benefit and even children. They stand at the road threatening to throw rocks at the windshields as the trucks roll through villages and towns. Drivers have to throw out a rolled Rs 100 note to them or else end up with a shattered windshield that costs a lot more than the money offered to keep the little urchins at
The Golden Goose ? ?The Nato supplies that transit through Pakistan is a goose that lays golden eggs,? says a journalist at Chaman. The logistics companies benefit from it, the drivers benefit, the people benefit and even children. They stand at the road threatening to throw rocks at the windshields as the trucks roll through villages and towns. Drivers have to throw out a rolled Rs 100 note to them or else end up with a shattered windshield that costs a lot more than the money offered to keep the little urchins at

From villages along the road in Chaman, Balochistan, poor labour turned shrewd oil prospectors are the first to arrive at oil tanker spills. Nato oil tankers tipping over frequently in folds along the road have put the locals wise to the fruits of accidental fortune in the absence of opportunity and employment. They come in droves. And when they run out of gallons to fill, they bring pots and pans. – Text and photos by Aurangzaib Khan and Matiullah Achakzai.

Matiullah Achakzai is journalist based in Chaman. Aurangzaib Khan is a senior award-winning journalist based in Peshawar and has also worked extensively in the development and uplift sector in KP and FATA.

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