Sunday, March 25, 2012

I rode a motorbike alone from The Netherlands to Nepal (17.000km/3months). I travelled through countries like Iran, Turkmenistan and Pakistan. AMA

The following is written by a Dutch traveler. The article can be found in his site.

A couple of years ago I left my home in Boskoop, The Netherlands to travel to Nepal, Asia.

During that trip I visited Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Pakistan, India and Nepal.

Preparation (getting the bike ready, visa's, etc.) took about 6 months. I left in the spring and returned (by plane) 3 months later.

I kept a blog during the trip; it's still more or less on-line:

Proof: This is me riding in N. Pakistan (Karakorum Highway):

EDIT 1: The route

EDIT 2: A short ride report with pics:

EDIT 3: Ok, about to go to bed, will check tomorrow for any unanswered questions.

Often asked questions:

-What bike?

Honda Africa Twin. I bought the bike specifically for the trip. It was 2nd hand, imported from Italy (not by me) with 28000km on the odometer. I modded the bike: bigger fuel tank (44liter), GPS (Garmin), heated grips, huge airhorn, steel tube protection frame, aluminum panniers, etc. Also a full service & new tires. All together I think the bike & luggage weighs around 350kg.


I took maps along of every part of my route. All can be bought online. The GPS helps, nut mostly you just follow the road/path to the next town/village. That can be anywhere from 10km to 600km. Locals can tell you how to get to the next village (but usually not further, they don't know/never been).


Before leaving, I organized all the required visas. Some I got in The Netherlands (The Hague) and for some I had to go to Brussels. It's a hassle, it costs a lot of money, but there is no way around it. You can get agencies to do it for you, but that can cost a lot of money.

The Turkmen visa was the hardest to get. Normally, you can only travel in Turkmenistan with a guide 24/7. But there is a loophole: you can get a transit visa which allows you to enter, travel, and leave. So I told them that I would be entering from Iran in order to go to Uzbekistan. I asked for 6 days visa, considering the distance I would be traveling that would give me a day to visit the capital and an extra day in case of emergencies.


Some of the countries visited were cash only (for example Iran, Turkmenistan), others have ATM's (for example Pakistan, India, Nepal, China). So you have to bring lots of US$ with you (yes, they accept the US$ anywhere, really anywhere). I carried some on my body, and some was hidden on the bike.

-Costs (EURO)?

Bike was about 3-4K, I spend about 7K along the way, flight back & bike shipping about 2K, paperwork & guides 1K. Add maybe 1K for things I forgot.


I took a security course in the UK before I left. They cater to journalists & tourists that go to 'difficult' countries. Their analysis was that the biggest danger would be the traffic in India! I took normal precautions, and was never at 1 place for more that a few days. So usually if I would have attracted any attention, I was gone before they really noticed me. But I never really felt in danger. I never traveled at night and almost always slept in hotels/hostels/family homes where the bike was parked in a safe place. Sometimes that would be inside, next to the reception. And, no, I didn't bring any guns (why Americans have such a fascination for guns, I'll never understand).

Contrary to popular opinion, crime rates in most of these countries are very low. In some you have more to fear from the police/military than the population. They tend to be extremely welcoming, friendly & curious.

-Repairs/spare parts

I took a pair of tires with me to switch just before Turkmenistan. I also sent a pair ahead to China, together with oil & air filters. I carried a lot of spares, because after Istanbul, it's really hard if not impossible to get anything for such a (big) bike. I suffered no problems, except a flat tire in China due to a huge iron nail. I also carries spare inner tubes and an air pump. I'm quite handy with tools & repairs, so that was no problem. I took plenty tools along.

-Food & lodging

You can get food anywhere (duh), and they have hotels and restaurants anywhere (duh), although they may not look like anything you've ever seen. A restaurant can be a roadside shack and a hotel can turn out not to have any water .. I always carried a lot of water on the bike, and I had some camping/survival food with me, just in case. I also carried a tent, sleeping bag and simple cooking set. I camped in the desert of Iran and Turkmenistan (amazing).

-Route (loop in China)

I wanted to cross the desert, and I took the Cross Desert Highway, 600km of sand, sand and then some more sand. So I made that loop (clockwise). Cool, you can see that desert from space!


I found people on average everywhere very friendly and sympathetic to my travels. People in remote places are thrilled to see strangers visit them, especially someone from that far away, alone on a motorcycle. Poor people relate different to motorcycles then we do. For them it's the transportation of the poor, the rich have cars .. so if you're on a bike, even from the west, you can't be rich ..

I also 'discovered' that:

-governments suck, not people

-Northern Pakistan is the most beautiful place on earth

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

General Pasha put rare check on US influence

By Ansar Abbasi

ISLAMABAD: General Ahmad Shuja Pasha would have made many mistakes and would have failed on many fronts but he did wonders in limiting the role of CIA and FBI agents in Pakistan, the contribution that makes him look different from many others.

Gen Pasha has been the most hated Pakistani in Washington and a real pain in the neck for the CIA. For the same reason, his retirement has brought a sigh of relief to the Intelligence circles in the US. He was a rare breed of Generals, who would not be impressed with the influence of Washington and its powerful intelligence chief.

He has been the most difficult man to tackle for the Panettas and Patreauses of this world hence there have been demands from Washington that Pasha should be removed. It was his candidness and bluntness with his US counterparts, which made him one of the most powerful spymasters in the world.

Coming from a humble but well educated family and after having cleanly served the army with distinction for almost 35 years, Pasha took over as ISI chief, the position that earned him a lot of embarrassments and controversies.

Failures connected to the ISI during his tenure as its DG should remain a burden for him but there is hardly anyone to appreciate how he managed to limit the role of the American agencies in Pakistan.

Following 9/11 General Musharraf had put the sovereignty of Pakistan at stake and on sale by giving the kind of free hand to US agents that was simply unimaginable. “We had no idea how many foreign as well as local agents of CIA and FBI were operating within the territorial limits of Pakistan,” an official source said, adding that the American agents were spread all over.

Not only had Musharraf allowed the CIA and FBI to hire local agents in Pakistan in the garb of so-called war on terror, the Americans were also free to move in and out without any check. “At times we did not know who is coming and who is going, and what is brought in and what it taken out,” the source said.

This unimaginable concession for the US officials was first brought under check by no one else but Pasha on whose orders in October 2009 the facility of unchecked arrivals and departures with no scrutiny of their luggage at the Benazir Bhutto International Airport (BBIA) in Islamabad was formally withdrawn.

Gammon Gate of the BBIA, which was basically meant for food catering services and had a direct outside airport link without passing through immigration and customs checks, was specified for the US officials and for the UN officials too. This special facility had allowed the Americans to have unchecked arrivals and departures to and from the Islamabad Airport. The facility was massively misused and there were reports of even unauthorised and undeclared import of sensitive material and equipment, including weapons.

A CAA order, issued on the subject in 2009, did concede that the customs and immigration authorities have no arrangements/staff to check the movement and crew and other foreigners, etc. “The equipment related to aeroplane, the crew and their personal luggage also passes through this gate. During checking, US vehicles and the luggage they carry to and from apron area are not properly searched/checked by the ASF staff deputed to control the entry/exit at the Gammon Gate,” a document said, adding in view of this, use of the Gammon Gate by foreigners should be stopped forthwith as it was a serious security hazard.

In the garb of training, the CIA spies had their presence in and around vital sites of Pakistan’s national security. Police College Sihala near Kahuta Nuclear Plant was one such sensitive site from where Gen Pasha managed to root them out and packed them back to Washington.

To check the activities of ruthless members of Blackwater and DynCorp, the ISI under Pasha started checking the US “officials” and “diplomats” on the roads of Pakistan and even started questioning them and in some cases even taking them to police stations.

It was also on the direction of Pasha that action was launched against DynCorp and its local partner Inter-Risk, which was issued the prohibited bore licences by the interior ministry on the request of the US embassy.

Besides pushing the already present CIA and FBI agents out of Pakistan, Pasha pursued the policy of strict monitoring of the US visitors. He wanted a tight scrutiny of every visitor coming from Washington - a move that made the US administration angry.

Washington put pressure on the rulers in Islamabad, who in a strange decision had allowed its embassy in Washington under Hussain Haqqani to issue visas to US officials without getting clearance from the security agencies of Pakistan.

The issue of Raymond Davis and May 2 Abbottabad shame brought CIA and the ISI face to face. Clashes between CIA and ISI had actually begun after the Army chief’s refusal to lauch operation in North Waziristan, with Gen Shuja Pasha refusing to cooperate with the CIA unless the relationship was on an equal footing.

According to one report, visas to 1545 US employees in the name of diplomats, trainers, NGO workers or NATO officials were issued controversially and without proper scrutiny. After the Raymond Davis case, the ISI had asked CIA to disclose the location of its agents/employees in Pakistan and the nature of their appointment in Pakistan. After repeated questioning CIA kept denying that they had so many operatives in Pakistan. The ISI managed to expel many of them following the release of Raymond Davis - the incident that was a great embarrassment for Pakistanis - however the complete cleansing was still not done.

The clashes between ISI and CIA worsened when Pasha reportedly insisted on the one-point agenda that ISI would not support any CIA activity in Afghanistan or Pakistan if they do not declare their operatives in Pakistan. To this effect the CIA officials said in plain words that no such clarification would be made to ISI as all visas have been issued duly and by the Pakistani authorities. However, after a lot of discussion the CIA, according to the report, agreed to declare 1079 officials, which were operating in Pakistan under various capacities, but denied to give any clue about others.

The ISI, on the other hand, had a list of 438 US officials who were in Pakistan but were not present in any consulate or embassy staff of any city. Their whereabouts were reportedly asked from CIA, to which they gave a funny reply that many of them have been lost? The CIA reportedly claimed that these operatives were used in the FATA area for the war on terror but in various incidents they have either been kidnapped or killed by Talibans so now they were no more in Pakistan. This was something Gen Pasha could not stomach.

Pasha in his meeting with former CIA chief Panetta in Washington had clearly stated that if CIA did not trust ISI then ISI too was not bound to keep the ties as they were. Panetta never expected such a curt reply. Exchange of harsh words took place between the two, prompting Gen Pasha to abruptly end his visit. He left USA just 5 hours after his arrival.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Pakistan to export handguns to United States: PHSADC

PESHAWAR: Pakistan Hunting and Sporting Arms Development Company (PHSADC) has signed memorandum of understandings (MoUs) with two international companies for the promotion of the export of hunting and sporting arms in United States and Lebanon.

The memorandums in these regards were signed during IWA and Outdoor Classics 2011 Exhibition in Nuremberg, Germany in the presence of Federal Minister for Industries and Production (MoIP), Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani On behalf of Pakistan Hunting & Sporting Arms Development Company, Khalid Chadda signed the agreement while the US and Lebanon companies were represented by their respective representatives.

During a meeting headed by Federal Minister for Industries and Production, Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani with the president of the US-based Century International Arms Corporation an order for the export of 2500 handguns on monthly basis was finalized.

In addition, Century International Arms Corporation also agreed to invest in Pakistan for setting up a state of the art Fire Arm manufacturing unit. This unit will export thousands of hunting and sporting arms to United States on monthly bases.

The second achievement of the company was the signing of another memorandum with Mairage Ramia B.S.N.L of Lebanon in the presence of the federal minister.

According to the memorandum Mairage Ramia B.S.N.L will represent Pakistani hunting & sporting arms in Lebanon for coming three years till Dec 2013, this contract is extendable on mutual understanding further.

Federal Minister for Industries and Production (MoIP) Hazar Khan Bijarani along with Chairman PIDC Gul Mohammad Rind is heading the team of Pakistan Hunting and Sporting Arms Development Company (PHSADC) in the exhibition.

Speaking on the occasion the Federal Minister appreciated the efforts of PHSADC team and its professional attitude in the promotion and presentation of Pakistani products in a very organized manner in the World II largest event of hunting and shooting sports.

He added that PHSADC is well equipped with in-depth product knowledge besides professional marketing and selling skills and the placing of orders by international customers is ample proof of it.

"These well planned efforts would help turn up in bringing precious foreign exchange and creating of more employment in the sector," concluded the minister.