Afghanistan-A-Go-Go

A Reservist's Tale Of A Tour

Posts Tagged ‘traffic

Back To Kabul – And Kabul Traffic

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While Helmand was an interesting trip, and it was good to see some different places, meet some different people, and catch up with some of the guys who were up here in Kabul with us before being dispatched out to different parts of Afghanistan, it wasn’t that productive, really. Originally, we were supposed to be bringing down some of our ANA staff to RC(SW) to validate and certify instructors there, but then word came that they couldn’t travel. So we decided we’d go down, observe their training, and basically give them the info they need to validate them. By the time we were getting ready to go, it turned out that training wasn’t even going to be running, so we conducted more of a liaison/close out visit, with a vital secondary function of delivering luggage, which I think I mentioned already.

We did meet some of the ANA staff at their training centre, and got a tour of the facilities, which was good – it was a sort of “professional development” experience to see what is working in that region, which was of value. Part of the “lessons learned” in all this is that what works in one place will not work in another, and we’re coming to realize that decentralization is the key to making things work here, that is a constant challenge with some of the culturally institutionalized structures of the ANSF. Getting leaders to delegate to their subordinates in order to achieve more efficient results can be very, very hard. We are working on it in any way we can though. Whether it will succeed though is not totally clear. I’ve appreciated the candour of some senior people who will readily say that not everything is going perfectly, that priorities weren’t always right, but we learn, we adapt, and we carry on. Overall, I think there’s a foundation for things to work the most part. And that isn’t a “toe the party line” statement, it’s sincerely my impression.

That said, we know that things aren’t perfect. Coming back from the airport yesterday, we saw some ANP who had stopped a vehicle and were, according to our interpreter, most likely shaking the driver down a bit. As we waited to get by, the cop hauled off and punched the driver through the window. And that was the second such event I’d seen just on that ride – the first one was an ANP slugging a guy at a traffic circle, though it looked like they got into some friendly banter afterward, so I don’t really know what to make of it.

That leads me into driving here. I don’t think I’ve been able to convey enough how amazed I am by convoy teams and how well they manage to get around, because Kabul is an absolute nightmare to drive in, in ways that baffle me. Most intersections in the city are set up as traffic circles. Sure, they’re not common in North America (except perhaps in Nova Scotia, where they’re being used increasingly in all new road projects and retrofits), but the concept is simple enough for anyone to grasp. Traffic in the circle moves in one direction. Want to make a left hand turn? Enter the circle going to the right (counterclockwise) like everyone else is supposed to, then exit when you get to the road you want.

Or, in Kabul, just wait until the traffic police (who are pretty close to useless!) directs you to simply turn left as though the traffic circle is just some sort of obstacle. And they wonder, one supposes, why traffic is always such a mess.

They also love going the wrong way on divided roads, which are fairly common here, because it’s too much of a hassle to turn right and proceed to the nearest spot to turn around when you can just simply go the wrong way and everyone will get out of your way. Add to this pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists all going wherever they want, and you start to really wonder how they manage not to have accidents constantly. It boggles the mind. We discussed this while stuck in traffic yesterday though, and one of the drivers had a pretty good hypothesis. Western drivers, he posited, know the rules of the road which are fairly rigid, and when they are deviated from they don’t really know what to do. Their vigilance is reduced by a perception that no one would break the rules. Kabulis, however, understand that there are no rules, and you cannot possibly anticipate what will happen at any point, so driving requires a delicate balance of the aggression necessary to get through traffic to your destination, and vigilance to protect your vehicle.

Makes some sense to me.

Written by Nick

June 21, 2012 at 1:15 am