Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Crime Wave Alarms Balkh Residents

Surge in kidnappings and murder has worried locals in what has been a relatively peaceful province.
By Ahmad Kawosh
  • Balkh police struggling to deal with surge in violent crime. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jeff Nevison)
    Balkh police struggling to deal with surge in violent crime. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jeff Nevison)

The recent killing of a local security officer’s young son is the most gruesome of a spate of violent crimes that has unsettled residents of this usually calm region.

The shocking death of 10-year-old Nasir Ahmad, the son of a Mazar-e-Sharif traffic police official, is one of 20 cases of murder and kidnapping reported in April and May, part of a huge increase in levels of crime.

Nasir was seized on his way home from school on April 7, and a 100,000 US dollar ransom demanded for his release. Although his father, Mohammad Kazem, sold whatever he owned to raise 80,000 dollars, the kidnappers suspected he had also tipped off police and so went on to kill the child.

A family member, who did not want to be identified, said, “The kidnappers cut Nasir Ahmad’s body into pieces and put them in a sack behind Kazem’s house. They also sent a message to the kid’s family, telling them it was Mohammad Kazem’s mistake to contact the police.”

He added that the father had now left Balkh after further threats from the kidnappers.

The brutal killing has alarmed people in the province, which has largely escaped the violence that has plagued other areas of Afghanistan in the nine years since the overthrow of the Taleban.

Ahmad Fawad, an 18-year-old student, said that he has had nightmares ever since he heard the story of Nasir’s dismemberment. Although his father, who sells car parts, is not wealthy, he said he still feared the kidnappers.

“When I hear the news of someone’s murder or kidnapping in the city, I cannot go to school calmly,” he said. “My whole family waits, looking at the door from the time I go to school until the time I return.”

In another case, a Belgian citizen was seized while touring Balkh province and held hostage in Sholgara district for a week. The man was released as a result of police efforts, although security officials declined to give further details about the incident.

Further cases include that of a taxi driver, Azizollah, who was killed by robbers who stole his car on April 20. And unidentified armed men shot dead Mohammad Nasim, a teacher at the police training centre in Balkh, on April 24.

Eleven other Balkh citizens were killed between April 25 and May 10 – some of the victims found at the roadside or among rubbish bins.

Security officials say that the level of serious crime has shot up to 115 incidents in April and May, compared with 70 in the same period last year.

General Esmatollah Alizai, the new commander of police in Balkh province, said that poverty, unemployment and upcoming parliamentary elections may have affected the crime rate. The number of kidnappings increased during last summer’s presidential ballot too.

He added that local criminals may have exploited the transitional period around his appointment as chief of police on April 27.

“I admit that when I started working as chief of security in Balkh the level of murder, robbery, kidnapping and so on increased so much that it was very surprising and worrying for me,” he said.

Alizai said that he had gathered together local security officials to warn them that he would dismiss them if they engaged in corruption or neglected their work.

“I have also warned the criminals that I will punish them severely,” he said.

Although no arrests have been made in connection with the recent crime wave, Alizai said, “The work is in process, but the cases are very complicated and have roots outside Balkh province as well.”

He declined to give further details, only saying, “The offenders’ faces will soon be exposed to the media.”

Pointing to his prior experience in Herat province, he said he had drastically reduced the level of crime there over a period of three months by stamping down on police corruption.

But businessmen in Balkh say that they will be unable to continue working in the province if the crime surge continues.

Abdol Sabur Nadem, who imports industrial lubricants from China and Central Asian countries, said that many traders are now thinking about removing both their families and investments from Balkh.

“There is no point working if we and our families do not feel secure,” he said. “I am sitting in my shop, but I feel unsafe, as if the kidnappers could come at any minute and kidnap me.”

He has started paying someone to escort two of his children to school, even though they study near his shop, because of the fear of kidnapping, “The kidnappers are powerful groups and have many opportunities.”

Nurollah Mohseni, a law and political science lecturer at Balkh University, said the apathy of the local police force had allowed crime to escalate.

The majority of Balkh officials, he said, had supported presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah in last year’s election. When incumbent Hamed Karzai won, most doubted they would keep their posts for very long and so neglected their duties.

“The central government removed the former security chief and sent a new one. Now, most senior officials and even lower level officials think the same destiny awaits them too, so they are not completely interested in their work as they were in the past,” Mohseni said.

Also, he said, the prolonged absence of the rule of law in Afghanistan has created a situation when criminals believe they can commit offences with impunity.

“During the past 30 years of war, no criminal was punished properly and others were released on various pretexts. The law has lost its meaning,” he said.

Residents also believe that the local judiciary has been too lenient with criminals.

Abdol Baset, 25, a student of Islamic law at Balkh University said, “If punishment was in accordance with the penal code of Afghanistan, which is based on Islamic shariah law, and it was implemented, particularly on those who kill a Muslim for their personal benefit, the level of violence and crime will definitely decline, and even be eliminated.”

Ahmad Kawosh is an IWPR trainee reporter in Balkh.