War fears bring business to north Afghan border
By Mike Collett-White
Tuesday October 2, 12:51 AM
KHOJA BAHAWUDDIN, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Along the northern frontier of Afghanistan business for many is booming.
As tens of thousands of people flood to the borders in fear of a U.S. military attack, hundreds of journalists queue up to move in the opposite direction to report on the fireworks when, and if, they come.
Hotel owners, taxi drivers, airline staff and translators in the region reap the rewards of war, or the threat of it. Prices skyrocket, often in the space of a day.
A car ride from the Tajik capital of Dushanbe to the Tajik-Afghan border some 200 km (120 miles) to the south can cost up to $500. Just a month ago it cost less than $100.
Reporters move into Afghanistan mainly through the northeast, where the western-friendly Northern Alliance opposition force holds on to a small corner of one of the world's most inhospitable countries.
The remaining more than 90 percent of Afghanistan is in the hands of the ruling Taliban militia, the focus of U.S. anger since the September 11 airliner hijackings and attacks in which nearly 6,000 are dead or missing.
The hardline Islamic movement is accused by the United States of harbouring Saudi-born dissident Osama bin Laden, suspect number one in the attack investigation, and prying journalists are not welcome on its territory.
So it is the Northern Alliance and its ethnic Tajik kin to the north in Tajikistan that bear the brunt of seeing the world's media move in and out of the country.
More then 400 hundred reporters, photographers and cameramen have descended on the Tajik capital, Dushanbe. Hotel rooms and infrastructure in the former Soviet Union's poorest country are limited.
"This is a nightmare," said one overworked clerk, sweating in the cramped space of a Foreign Ministry office. "I just wish everyone would leave today."
Once the Tajik accreditation and visa is handed out, the next port of call is the Afghan embassy, representing ousted President Burhanuddin Rabbani.
The tiny building on a dusty back street is ill-equipped for a media onslaught. Waiting lists for the daily helicopter flight to the opposition-held Panjsher Valley grow, with only 12 places on board each day.
Even then passage is not guaranteed. A weekend flight was curtailed abruptly due to a mechanical fault on board an ageing Mi-8 Soviet-built helicopter. It landed instead in another alliance stronghold north of Panjsher.
The locals did not look too dismayed. Interpreters and drivers were on call for a cool $100 a day, compared with $8 a month for some teachers working in the capital, Kabul.
In the desolate, dusty town of Khoja Bahawuddin, home to thousands of Afghan refugees living in Biblical bleakness in a huge tent camp outside town, things are looking up.
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