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Kabul: The City of Fear

The Afghan government has vowed to make the capital a symbol of security, but recent bombings have sown terror.
By Wahidullah Amani
Kabul’s narrow streets, recently so crowded, are now unnaturally calm.

The last 10 days of Ramadan are usually the year’s busiest, as shoppers rush to buy clothes, presents and food for Eid al-Fitr, the holiday that ends a month of fasting. Kabul’s daytime population normally doubles during this periods as crowds come in from the provinces to complete their purchases.

But for the past few days, the shops have been empty and the streets deserted. Those who do venture out have pinched faces and a hurried look – they all fear that another suicide attack could come at any time.

“I had to come to the city to buy things for Eid,” said Nafas Gul, 28. “But I am sorry I’m here. I am afraid all the time, and I’m hurrying so that I can get home. Everyone there is worried about me.”

The past two weeks have seen several devastating attacks that have taken the lives of dozens of military and civilians in various parts of the capital.

The Taleban have claimed responsibility for the carnage, saying it marks a new phase in their “jihad” or holy war against the Afghan government and the foreigners who back it.

The biggest incident was on September 29, when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives on a bus full of Afghan army personnel, killing 30 and injuring 29. The blast shattered the calm of a neighbourhood previously considered safe, Kart-e-Parwan.

Another bomb just three days later made Kabul residents uncomfortably aware that no area of the capital is truly safe any more. The October 2 blast, in the western part of the city, targeted a shuttle bus carrying Afghan police.

Witnesses say 15 people were killed and ten were injured. The interior ministry confirmed the death toll, which included 10 police, but spokesman Zmarai Bashiri put the number of injured at three.

Sher Mohammad, 25, has a shop in the area. He was close to the bus at the time of the explosion, and saw the man police believe to be the bomber.

“There was a man in a large patu [Afghan shawl] sitting under a tree opposite my shop,” he said. “When the bus arrived, a number of police got on. He did, too, and a few minutes later there was a big explosion.

"I saw the dead and wounded scattered everywhere. There were women and children among them. I saw one of our neighbours who was injured, and I immediately rushed him to hospital."

Mohammad Bashir, 27, said that he got to the scene of the bombing soon after the attack took place.

"When I got to the bus, I saw five dead children and one woman near the bus. The children had school uniforms on. I got in the bus and took four injured people out. There were a lot of dead in the bus, most of them burnt," he said.

Things have reached a stage where Kabul residents are changing their way of life. Many families are keeping their children home from school, undermining one of the government’s major successes.

“I have three children,” said 40-year-old Sulaiman. “I am very worried about them when they go out every day. If the situation continues like this, I will have to stop them going to school.”

The police are attempting to deal with the problem by increasing their presence on the streets and boosting the number of checkpoints where cars are stopped and searched. But this has not helped calm fears among residents of the capital.

“The police appear on the roads and search vehicles whenever they want to, said 42-year-old Mohammad Rahim. “They only do it for two hours a day, so it does nothing but bother people. They do a search early in the morning, but they’re gone by 10 am.”

The two latest attacks were both in the early morning.

The interior ministry acknowledges that the recent bombings have increased concerns and spread fears across Kabul, but the spokesman insists that there are new precautions for preventing a repeat of the recent attacks targeting the security forces.

“We have developed good plans, which we hope will achieve positive results,” said spokesman Bashiri.

He would not go into any detail, citing the need for confidentiality.

“We want Kabul to be a symbol of security,” he said. “We are very concerned about the recent incidents. It is not easy to combat suicide attacks, but we are hoping for the cooperation of the local population.”

But that may a tough sell for residents like Gul Wali, 57. He is angry and bitter, and despite the Taleban’s clear acceptance of responsibility, he is in no doubt as to whom to blame.

“There is no security in the city,” he said. “The police do nothing except take bribes. This whole situation is because of the government. I don’t let my family members leave the house any more. If they go out, I have to worry about them until they get back.”

Wahidullah Amani is IWPR’s lead trainer and reporter in Kabul.

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