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

Kabulis' Self-Imposed Curfew

Residents of the capital and its suburbs are now allowed to wander freely at night - but most are too scared to.
By Habib-u-Rahman Ibrahimi

Asif has lived in Kabul for all 40 years of his life, but he hasn't been able to walk its streets after midnight since he was a teenager.

He was thrilled when the curfew in Kabul was lifted last week after 24 years. His joy was short-lived though. The first time he tried to go out late at night to visit a friend, he was arrested and detained till the morning.

"While I was walking, police suddenly stopped me," he said. "I told them that there isn't any curfew, so why were they stopping me? They asked my address, and I told them. Then they asked me the name of my district representative. I told them that I had just moved and didn't know his name.

"They put me in a cold, empty room [at the police post] and warned me not to wander at night."

Lifting the curfews in Kabul and the provinces was meant to be a sign to Afghans and the international community that the country's security situation had improved. But residents say they're reluctant to go out at night because they are afraid of criminals and the city's police.

Interior Minister Taj Mohammad Wardak told IWPR, "The number of the crimes has decreased since the start of the interim administration, and this means that there is peace and security everywhere. This was the reason that we decided to end curfews. Now people can lead more normal lives."

The ISAF and the interior ministry have increased night patrols in Kabul since the curfew was lifted. There have been no significant security problems, said the former's spokesman Major Mike Edwards.

Yet the streets are still dark and empty after midnight.

"When I saw that people are still afraid and are not wandering the city at night, I felt really unhappy," said local resident, Mohammad Shafiq.

One of the shopkeepers in Kabul's Mandavi Market told IWPR that while he's glad the curfew has been lifted, he'd be happier if there were enough customers to justify keeping his shop open round-the-clock. "We cannot believe in Afghan security forces or Afghan police - we only have faith in ISAF," he said.

Other Kabul residents, particularly those in the west and outlying areas, say they can't trust the police; some accuse officers of actually committing crimes. And others are critical of the ISAF for not patrolling their neighbourhoods often enough.

"When Britain had command of ISAF, they patrolled at night and there was no crime," said one resident, but now that Turkey is in charge, he said, the situation had worsened.

Edwards said there were no changes in the number of patrols or their routes under Turkish command, "It's irrelevant what nationality is holding the baton. The mandate is laid out in black and white."

Nonetheless, armed criminals continue to terrorise the city's residents.

Aminullah, from the Qala-e-Wazir district in eastern Kabul, told IWPR, "Our region is very insecure. Fifteen men came to my house last Friday night and ordered us into a room at gunpoint. They cut my daughter and two sons with knives - they're still in hospital. They stole10 carpets, CDs, tapes, a VCR and 150 million afghanis [about 3,000 US dollars]."

Dr Mohammad Zahir, a resident of Chaharahi Qambar area western Kabul, told IWPR that robbers stole a generator and some medical equipment from his pharmacy, and that two other drugstores in the area have also been burgled. "Some people are even leaving these areas because of security problems," he said. "Those who cannot leave patrol their areas themselves."

Mohammad Sadeq said he was moving out of the Naw Abad district of western Kabul because he'd been robbed once already and was afraid the thieves would return to kill him - he said he had heard this had happened to someone in a nearby neighbourhood.

Abdul Samad Zulmai, chief of police for the western districts of Kabul, accuses defence ministry troops of committing many of the crimes. "Many criminals have found jobs in the military," he said, suggesting that low salaries and late payment were factors driving them back into crime.

Zulmai cited the example of a robber who stole 5 million afghanis from a house, whose owner recognised the intruder as a soldier from the local military compound. Its commander refused to arrest the thief, who returned to the house he'd robbed and warned the owner that he would kill him.

Senior law enforcement chiefs vehemently deny that their men are behind any of the crimes. "Our police officers are providing a service to the people. The 700 to 800 robbers that we have arrested are definitely not officers," said Mohammed Khalil Amin Zada, deputy chief of the Kabul force.

Wardak said that citizens should stop blaming the police and start being more vigilant, "If residents of Kabul see armed men committing crimes, they should inform the nearest police stations. Without people's cooperation, peace cannot come to any country."

The interior ministry has recently publicised on TV and radio the phone numbers of local stations to encourage people to report crimes.

ISAF commanders, meanwhile, say they will assess the security situation and have hinted that the curfew might be restored if it deteriorates. The force's press officer, Major Gordon MacKenzie, told IWPR, "We will check the number of the crimes in the first month - and if they begin to increase we will review our decision."

Habib-u-Rahman Ibrahimi and Sayed Abdullah are independent journalists in Kabul.

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