Tsuen Wan minibuses ply new trade in war-torn Kabul

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 January, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 January, 2002, 12:00am

Two green-top minibuses that once served passengers in Tsuen Wan are now being used in war-torn Kabul to ferry diplomats and international dignitaries.


They were part of a lucrative trade in vehicles and spare parts between Hong Kong scrapyards and Pakistan and Afghanistan that was briefly disrupted during the US military action.


About 15 Pakistani businessmen - among them Naeem Khan - specialise in the trade.


Speaking from the north-western Pakistan city of Peshawar yesterday, he said the two minibuses had been shipped by himself or someone he knew.


They still have their Chinese route signs saying they travel between Tsuen Wan pier and Riviera Gardens at a charge of $2.40.


He said the signs were retained for a purpose. 'That shows they are from Hong Kong, foreign-imported . . . I have shipped so many vehicles from Hong Kong, and I know everyone in the trade,' Mr Khan said.


The two minibuses were chartered by officials to carry VIPs during the inauguration ceremony of the interim Government in Kabul last month, according to international photo agency EyePress.


Those attending the ceremony included the UN representative to Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, his deputy, Francesc Vendrell, US special envoy James Dobbins and General Tommy Franks, who heads the US military campaign.


There are almost no new cars in Kabul because the best and newest - mostly Japanese pick-up trucks and sports-utility vehicles - were driven by Taleban soldiers and had disappeared or been destroyed during bombing raids, Mr Khan said.


He said his business was now even better than before the US military campaign.


'We lost our Taleban clients but we gained new ones. Now they all insist on cars and vans with radios and tape players. We can charge more for vehicles with loudspeakers,' he said.


The Taleban regime banned all music so Mr Khan had to dismantle radios and tape players before shipping vehicles.


He said the new administration in Kabul encouraged trade and US soldiers did not interfere with his business.


The South China Morning Post first reported in November that middlemen in northwest Pakistan had been running the vehicle trade between Afghanistan and scrapyards in Yuen Long and Tuen Mun for more than a decade.


Mr Khan said he paid between $15,000 and $20,000 for a mini-van plus shipment costs but could resell it for up to $50,000.