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Abbottabad and Washington cabbies' no-holds-barred views

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By Imran Garda

"1010 Wisconsin Avenue please," I said, as I shuffled into the back seat of my taxi, snappily pronouncing the digits as "ten-ten".

The cabbie had the frustrated, sweaty look of a smoker trying to quit: big stocky fingers wrapped around his steering wheel, and what looked like a normally well-cultivated moustache that had missed a day or two of TLC from its owner.

"1010 wisconsin, huh? Why not 9-9 Jefferson? Or 8-8 Lincoln? Or 7-7 Washington"

A tiny flush of insecurity gripped me for a second. I was sure that Wisconsin Ave was named after a state, and the state in turn named after a river. Did I miss a former President called Wisconsin? Nevertheless, I'd accepted the premise and, like a game of poker, raised him one.

"So if I told you to take me to number 6-6-6, what would the street name be?"

Smirking - hoping my eschatological, satanic reference didn't go unappreciated.

"Obama Street, of course." He rolled the 'r' of "of cour-r-r-se". He seemed Iraqi, but I wasn't entirely sure.

"And why Obama?" I asked.

"Because he's an idiot. He should've waited six months. Very stupid."

"For what?"

'You can't trust' them

"Six more months to tell us they killed that guy, and he would have won re-election easy. Now the Republicans have too much time."

Smiling, semi-puzzled, I enquired: "So after bin Laden was killed the other night, they should have kept it a secret until the end of the year?"

"No, no..." he lectured, "we all know he was dead years ago. Bush knew. Obama knew, but he was stupid."

"But what about this operation? The Navy Seals and the compound and all the firing. Who did they kill?"

My cabbie, unwavering, continued: "Look, you can't trust these guys, with Saddam Hussein's sons Uday and Qusay, after they shot the guys, they showed us the bodies. Also that other guy ... what was his name?”

Me: "Zarqawi?"

"Yeah, they showed the body. This time, as usual, they're trying to trick us. They're all the same; Obama is the worst."

I'd reached my destination. My business was swift, it was time to flag down another taxi.

Beaming a gentle smile on an olive-complexioned face, framed by a fluffy white beard, his musallah prayer mat folded immaculately and wedged between his left-thigh and the driver's door - my next cabbie was Pakistani.

I gathered from the tone of his Urdu-language question that he was asking if I was from Pakistan. I was sorry to disappoint him. I told him I'd love to visit Pakistan at some point in the near future though.

"My country is in the news again, for the last five, six years - only bad news. And now this bin Laden killing."

He didn't seem to doubt the veracity of the killing like my earlier friend.

"But this government is doing too much bad things."

"You mean Zardari?" I asked.

"Not just him. Military, ISI ..." he said, shaking his head in lament.

"Do you think they knew bin Laden was there all along?"

"Of course, of course they knew..."

And as we drove along the banks of the Potomac in Georgetown, Washington DC, he pointed across the river, to Virginia.

"You see where he was staying in Abbottabad is like staying next to Pentagon!!!"

He had a point.

"And if they didn't know. All this talk of Pakistan, great nation, Pakistan with nuclear f***ing weapons, Pakistan with great military - all this talk but when the world's most wanted terrorist is killed by foreign government in operation near Islamabad. Our President says he found out by telephone afterward from Barack Obama. Can you believe? What a joke!"

No-holds-barred opinion

Since I've been in this city the cabbies have never failed to give me a no-holds-barred political opinion and have never failed to illuminate my day.

There are some who, like one elderly Nigerian cabbie, drove so slowly I felt we were going back in time (but it was worth it). He had the quirk of providing me with the etymological root of every street and major landmark's name in the capital - and linking it to America's history.

There was also a cabbie who gave me a vivid, first-hand account of the civil-rights movement. And another from the Zaghawa tribe of Chad, the same as his country's President Idriss Deby. He claimed he patriotically fought for Deby during Chad's civil war, but became disillusioned and left the country when, he claims, Deby began dishing out special privileges to his specific subclan of the Zaghawa, the Bideyat. His analysis on the conflict in Darfur, Sudan, was fascinating.

Yes, I've also had my fair share of some who, when delving into political discussions, start to bring up powerful cabals and illuminati; Rumsfelds and Rothschilds and new world orders; patsies and false flags; photoshop theories and smoking guns; Mossad attacks and anti-Christs, the CIA and inside jobs ...

But given the frankness of opinion, colourfulness of thought and sheer exhilaration of it all for this inquisitive passenger, I wouldn't trade any of DC's cabbies for anyone, not even some of our numerous analysts and experts that we interview on the airwaves.

Particularly those suited chaps from among the "thinktankerati" of the capital, who tend to regurgitate chatter from the Sunday morning TV talk shows, or the editorials in the New York Times, or Stratfor, or The Wall Street Journal or Foreign Policy magazine.

Or those who say: "Well my sources within the White House are telling me this issue is of deep concern for the administration and the President is monitoring the situation closely because..." And I often think to myself: "I'm quite sure I just read a press release from the White House (that hundreds, if not thousands, of us receive), talking about deep concern in the administration, the President monitoring the situation."

Well it did go to my expert guest's personal inbox. So on a technicality I'll allow them to say: "My sources are telling me."

That's where I reflect on my favourite sources, never shy to speak their minds, from Bush to bin Laden, the Pentagon to Abbottabad, steering their wheels as the world steers out of control.

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