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

Foreigners Unafraid Despite Killing

The shooting of a British national reminds everyone of the dangers of working in Afghanistan.

The killing of a British development expert in Kabul is forcing aid agencies and international organisations to review their security procedures after months of relative calm in the city.

Steven MacQueen, 41, a financial expert working on a rural credit scheme, was alone in his white pick-up truck when he was shot dead at close range, according to security sources.

Security for the estimated 2,000 foreign workers in the country is always a sensitive issue and most organisations are reluctant reveal exactly what measures they already have in place.

But a consular official at an embassy, who declined to be identified, said, "We already lead pretty austere lives.

"On Kabul postings, children and spouses are not permitted. We are not allowed to travel outside the city itself, and if we are required to go to Herat or Kandahar we must fly.

"If you leave the embassy compound you must have a trained driver with you. No one is allowed to drive on their own."

He said staff were issued with a list of approved restaurants, "This can change from time to time depending on the advice of security personnel.”

"Whether this latest incident will mean more restrictions, I do not know."

Paul Barker, country director of Care, one of the biggest agencies operating in Afghanistan, told the BBC, "We are being more cautious for the time being."

Friends say that MacQueen's contract in Kabul had only a few days to run and he was preparing to fly to Washington DC to join his American girlfriend, who was expecting the couple's baby next month.

Afghan and international officials increasingly believe MacQueen was deliberately targeted, although it is still unclear why. The Taleban were quick to claim responsibility for his killing but few observers take this seriously as the group has a history of making such claims.

"The Taleban are trying to exaggerate the extent of their power," said Najibullah Najib, press chief at the interior ministry. "They have claimed they were behind many incidents but later it proved to be unfounded."

A security analysis group agrees with this view. "They [the Taleban] frequently make these claims merely to take advantage of the situation," said a spokesman who did not wish to be named.

"An investigation is under way but I do not think this incident will have any effect on most of the internationals working here, and for that reason we shall not be issuing any specific warnings.

"We advise people not to go out on their own and to be extra vigilant after dark."

Sultan Ahmad Baheen, a spokesman with the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, said, "Security measures are kept under constant review, and because we work all over the country we have different guidelines in different regions.

"But our security arrangements in Kabul are the same as before the shooting."

Overseas workers who spoke to IWPR in central Kabul did not appear particularly disturbed by the incident.

Two Italian aid workers sitting in the Insaf Hotel said it had reminded them of the potential dangers but they did not feel in any way threatened.

"It just means you have to be more cautious, particularly when you are out after dark," said one.

Rita, a German working on a cultural affairs project, appeared equally unconcerned.

"Kabul is a calm place and I don't worry about going out," she said. "The shooting is very sad but incidents like this happen almost every day in many of the world's biggest cities. I wouldn't walk around at night but I'm quite happy to do so during the day."

MacQueen’s killing was the first murder of a foreigner in Kabul since an American woman was killed in a suicide bomb attack in Chicken Street last October, the same month that three United Nations workers were kidnapped. They were released unharmed a month later.

Wahidullah Amani is an IWPR staff reporter in Kabul.

More IWPR's Global Voices