Planes, Trains and Automobiles – Transportation in Afghanistan

The wonderful photos in this piece are from Zok Pavlovic and are to be used only expressly with his permission.

One of my constant challenges, when interacting with Westerners about Afghanistan, has been the ever-present challenge of transportation.  In the past, Afghanistan strategic presence has been based on transportation infrastructure.  Once it was a key portion of the Silk Road from China to The West.  Then, during the “Great Game” years, it was perceived as the gateway to warm water ports by Imperial Russia and later the Soviet Union.

Today, Afghanistan is challenged by its radically compartmentalized terrain.  Many parts of Afghanistan are only accessible during good weather, or the mountainous nature of much of the country makes it practically inaccessible regardless of weather.  ISAF and GIRoA are trying to deal with this issue by the construction of a series of transportation infrastructure projects, to include the construction of a “Ring Road” circulating around the country, improving airports and even the introduction of commercial rail, to a country which had obstinately resisted rail in the past, seeing it as an enabler for imperialism.  The only train in Afghanistan’s history that operated, was two engines which ran 2 km from the Taj Beg Palace to the seat of government, in the time of Amanullah.



I’ve shamelessly stolen this image from Andrew Grantham’s excellent page, found here:

Frankly, I am not that interested in the huge transportation development projects, as what individuals do to cope with this issue is much more fascinating.

Afghans are extremely creative when it comes to transportation.  Where a Westerner sees a passenger bus, an Afghan sees an open slate; a world of possibilities.


The motorcycle is the most popular form of transport, by far.  And they are often loaded to maximum capacity and beyond. The craziest thing I’ve ever seen on a motorcycle here is a live sheep, bungeed to the back of a motorcycle, eating hay that had been thoughtfully provided by the motorcyclist, hanging from a bag on his back.



Traditionally a Hazara form of transport is the ever-present “Karachi”, which is usually made from a car rear axle, two birch trees or bamboo staves as traces and wood bed, and loaded up with various items.



A word that means different things in different places, the three wheeled powered vehicle based on a motorcycle front and a car rear is called “rickshaw” in Afghanistan.  It was the subject of quite a bit of controversy in 2011, as the government of Afghanistan instituted licensing for them at an annual rate that exceeded the cost of the vehicles themselves.  This created a rickshaw black market that forced rickshaw owners to operate only in places where aggressive police patrolling was not occurring.


Afghans are all about modern vehicles, with late model Toyotas being the most numerous conveyance by far.  Of course, mass transit is extremely popular, as with low incomes and a high cost of living, maximizing the transportation budget is called for.


Despite the preference for modern transportation, Afghans will use whatever serves; this has a very pragmatic logical basis, and it annoys me when my fellow Westerners try to paint them as somehow backwards. “If it works, don’t fix it” comes to mind in rejoinder.


A corn vendor with his wheeled barrow


Such magnificence – A young man and young horse in their prime

horse drawn

Horse-drawn cart in East Kabul by Jalalabad Road


Kuchi traveling by camel in Helmand Province

precision guided donkeys

“Fire and Forget” Precision-guided donkeys in Qaysar – Buy stuff at the bazaar, put it on the donkeys, and they just go home on their own.

Soviet-era GAZ truck

Soviet-era GAZ truck


About hotmilkforbreakfast

I am a researcher, a writer, a former soldier, an academic and a lifelong learner. All text and pictures are copyrighted and are not to be used without express permission of the author.
This entry was posted in Agriculture, Culture, Food, How stuff is made, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Planes, Trains and Automobiles – Transportation in Afghanistan

  1. Juliette says:

    Wonderful article and images!

  2. Pingback: Planes, Trains and Automobiles – Transportation in Afghanistan « West Coast Review

  3. Pingback: Transport in Afghanistan « Railways of Afghanistan

  4. Pingback: Afghanistan Transportation  | The Bailey Blog

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