Kabul Police Struggle to Stem Crime Wave

Afghan police officers challenge politicians' claims that battle against crime in Kabul is being won

Kabul Police Struggle to Stem Crime Wave

Afghan police officers challenge politicians' claims that battle against crime in Kabul is being won

Tuesday, 22 February, 2005

The interim authority may have brought peace to the people of Kabul, but they have not yet delivered security. A daily fear of kidnapping, murder and harassment from armed gangs hangs over the city.

The violence is such that a moneychanger who was robbed of half a million afghanis (around 105 US dollars) in February said he felt lucky to be alive. "The criminals usually murder their targets first and then rob them," he said, recounting his abduction by three armed men.

Interior minister Yonus Qanuni says security had been a problem for the past decade, but insists that many of the hundreds of criminal networks, mainly comprising former mujahedin fighters, that were active in Kabul before the interim authority was formed, have now been broken up.

Deputy defence minister, Saleh Mohammad Regestani, said the authorities had succeeded in forcing hundreds of armed men to withdraw beyond the city limits. The few who remain are being drafted in the local police force, but he is confident they will not pose a threat.

"Like the army, the police force was destroyed when the mujahedin took control of Kabul in 1992. So until a new police force is formed we must rely on these men for security," he said. " They will be under a great deal of scrutiny to ensure that they don't get involved in crime."

But several officers IWPR contacted insisted that crime is still flourishing - and they question their superior's commitment to tackling it. "For some reason, the interim authority is reluctant to take decisive action against the criminal gangs," said one policeman.

Robbers target the city and then retreat to hiding places in the outskirts, where police do not have enough resources to mount operations against them, claim the authorities.

But some police officers say the reason they aren't pursued is that certain members of the interior ministry are themselves involved in criminal networks. A number of senior officials within the department are, for example, suspected of conducting a trade in captured Taleban and al-Qaeda fighters under their control.

At the same time, the efficacy and motivation of local security forces is constantly undermined by their ongoing financial problems. Many policemen haven't received their salaries for months. "I am having a terrible time. My family is going hungry and so am I," said Ahmad, a lower-ranking officer in Kabul's fourth precinct. "How can you expect an officer who is going to bed on an empty stomach to worry about the security of the well-off?"

And there doesn't seem to be an imminent end to the problem. When I asked the chairman of the interim authority, Hamid Karzai, when officers could expect to be paid, he said only, "They will receive their rights and privileges and should stop worrying about it".

While local police officers have serious doubts about the force's capability, they acknowledge that the British-led International Security Assistance Force, ISAF, with whom they conduct joint patrols, has helped them restore some degree of law and order to the city. The area the two cover was recently extended to a radius of 25 km around Kabul which may help to tackle criminal groups based just outside the city.

The ministry of interior has promised an extra 29,000 officers for this and other tasks - such as patrolling badly damaged parts of the capital which people won't return to because they feel unsafe - but no indication has been given as to when they will be available.

It will be a long time before the residents of Kabul really begin to feel safe. At the moment, many women are so insecure that they feel threatened by any armed man, regardless of whom he is working for. Latifa, a young woman who continues to wear a veil outside the home despite the fact that she is no longer legally obliged to do so, said, "The Taleban scared me so much that whenever I see a man with a beard and a weapon I feel overcome with fear and hatred. I hate these brutal faces."

Farzad Ahmadi is a Kabul-based IWPR contributor

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