Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Prohibited Shipments

A friend of mine in the States wants to send me a package (probably Kraft mac-n-cheese and stuff like that)* so I've been investigating the nuances of shipping into Afghanistan.

*There'd better be some peanut butter in the box- Skippy creamy only! That's all I'm sayin'

This is not as easy as it ought to be. Big surprise. First off, there's no real postal service here. Oh sure, there are Post Offices (well, one that I know of), but no one seems to work in them, and one never sees postmen out doing their rounds. Apparently, the creed of the Afghan postal service is something along the lines of: "Neither snow nor rain nor heat of day nor gloom of night shall stay these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds; but explosions, random gunfire, armed criminal gangs, venal police checkpoints and generally shitty roads- that's a bit much for us!" Sissies.

Anyway, DHL and FedEx both ship to Afghanistan on a daily basis. Pretty admirable if you ask me, and a fine example of American capitalism at work. That said, even international shipping companies have to abide by local laws and customs, so there are certain things they will not ship. Witness the list below taken from the DHL webpage for Afghanistan.*

  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Antiques
  • Asbestos
  • Cotton seed
  • Dangerous goods, hazardous or combustible materials
  • Drugs: non-prescription
  • Furs
  • Gambling devices
  • Ivory
  • Pornography
  • Postal envelopes
  • Precious metals & stones
  • Soil samples

*Somewhat ominously, DHL misspelled the location of their corporate headquarters in Kabul. When we're talking about a company that makes its money by delivering things on time to the proper address, that's a bad sign, right?

Now, some of the stuff on the above list is unsurprising. A-stan is a Muslim country after all, so the prohibition on alcohol is standard (although annoying), and I'm not shocked to see pornography on the list either. I'm not sure what "gambling devices" are, but I think I may have violated that already when I brought a deck of cards with me. Hazardous or combutible materials, well that's true around the world. No airline likes stuff that goes boom on their planes.* But cotton seeds? Is there a vast illicit cotten trade out there that I'm not aware of? Furs? Not a lot of animal rights activists in this part of the world. They have more important things to worry about.

*And its not like there's a shortage of stuff that goes boom in this country.

The prohibition against non-prescription drugs is particularly ironic, given that Afghanistan produces and exports approximately 90% of the worlds opium. The vaunted Afghan Customs Police are worried about a few aspirin?

"Military equipment" is not on the above list, because that's actually not prohibited. Go figure. DHL merely suggests that the shipper contact their local office to determine what additional paperwork might be required. I think we may have hit on the root cause of Afghanistan's problems. You can't have a beer, but with a little extra paperwork you can import a couple of crates of assault rifles. Somebody needs to readjust their priorities.

The kicker for me however, was the prohibition on postal envelopes. Of course! It's not that the Afghan postal service is ineffective or non-existant. It's just that no one can import envelopes, so no one writes any letters. No letters, no need for a postman. So simple.

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