EVERY MORNING I woke up to the recorded call to prayer—it was actually on tape, broadcast through big horn-type loudspeakers—bought some fruit for breakfast, and plotted out who I would try to talk to that day. I was studying the situation in Peshawar, trying to figure out the war and how to get inside to see it. Around the hotel and on the buses I met young guys, every one of whom claimed to have fought in the jihad. Most of them had probably done something, but their swagger was also somehow an intricate pose. Even the rough-hewn mujahideen lived within the endless mirrors of consciousness. 1
On the top floor with me at the Mumtaz was Ghulam, who was trying to use the confusion for a simple goal: to get rich. He was conductor on a bus that went to Jalalabad in Afghanistan three times a week; I was amazed to discover there was still regular bus service and truck traffic back and forth every day. It turned out that Pakistani students left from the Mumtaz on the bus for the medical school in Jalalabad without attracting any particular comment.
Ghulam was a wheeler-dealer who made most of his money from “crossborder trade, ” i.e., smuggling, taking advantage of the fact that luxury goods enter Afghanistan tax free, while enormous duties are levied in Pakistan. Therefore anything like Japanese VCRs brought from Afghanistan that happen to avoid customs are much cheaper and easy to sell. Constantly buying and selling, Ghulam also happened to be one of those people who love to possess. A certain fraction of his smuggling efforts never got beyond his own hands: fancy watches, jewelry, camera lenses, electronic toys, fine carpets, in short, anything of value. He knew cameras and could describe the best quality of ruby. His room was filled with people constantly coming and going, finding out what was going on, giving him tips, hanging out to watch his 25-inch color TV, all under the sign of The Deal. He told me of his adventures, like how he smuggled two British journalists to Kabul just after the Russian