The Open Secret in Kabul Airport

My latest experience in Kabul International Airport is one of the most daunting and uninspiring I ever had. I’ve been going in and out of this airport for the past 5 1/2 years, and each one has been eventful in one way or the other.

I bought decorative puzzle tiles from the camp bazaar for $65. They were selling it for $100 but I managed to purchase it at a lower price. I thought they’d make a good souvenir of my stay in Afghanistan in my home someday.

I neatly wrapped these 6-pieces of tiles in my luggage during my most recent vacation. And totally forgot that these would cause me to be a “very attractive prey” to the airport officials.

All in all, Kabul International Airport has 4 luggage scanners in different areas within the airport compound. If the convoy is allowed access to the parking area closest to the airport terminal (Parking B), you will only encounter 3 scanners. If you take the free shuttle from the other parking area (Parking C), you will only encounter 2. Our convoy was allowed access to Parking B.

There was no problem with the personnel manning scanner # 1. “Stones” were detected but he let me go after telling him that these are decorative tiles for the home. He did not even ask me to open my luggage.

It was a different story with the man manning Scanner # 2. There were no other passengers that time so he had all the time in the world to harass me and my tiles. He told me to open my luggage and he started searching for the “stones”. He wanted me to pay ransom for these tiles. I explained to him that these are tiles for the home and are not made of semi-precious stones we buy for accessories. I spent a lot of time arguing that these are non-valuable items. But he was really bent on making me a cash cow. He winked, to signal that he wants something else, that I will not get away without him having a part of my pocket money. I paid a ransom of $10.

Then I thought I was free. Not.

For there were bigger vultures waiting for me inside the terminal building.

After the scanner, I was again asked to stay aside and open my luggage. It was easy to locate the goldmine. These people though, took longer to fix. They were taking out my stuff one by one – my clothes, Starbucks mug, books! Even flipping pages of my books, to check if $ bills are inserted there for their own greediness!?!?

They started asking for $50 ransom. Imagine I paid $65 for this and they want me to pay almost the same price. I started bargaining at $10. Haha… Nice try, but it didn’t work. We settled finally at $20. I placed the $20 bill on top of my stuff inside the luggage. One wise vulture who was rummaging through my stuff tried to hide my money until the money managed to be given back to me. A “messenger” will come to approach me later at the check-in counter area to collect the “ransom”. Why? There are surveillance cameras installed and they could be caught.

Below is the photo of my decorative tiles. The $65 value rose to $95, the $35 discount I got from the seller went to these vultures in the airport.


Bribery and corruption is rampant in this country. It prides itself of being the most corrupt country in the world along with North Korea and Somalia, according to Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Passengers are the milking cows of these vultures who are not content with what they earn and try to abuse passengers undeservingly. The airport facilities leave a lot to be desired, coupled with the security conditions around Kabul. Having this vultures pecking does not help.

Flying out of Kabul International Airport is one of the most stressful experience one could have. You may be welcomed into the world of bakshish (or bribe/payment) – an open secret in Kabul International Airport.
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