Afghanistan

Afghanistan: Concern over crime in Kabul

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KABUL, 20 January (IRIN) - Following the lifting of a government curfew late last year, residents in the Afghan capital, Kabul, have expressed concern over a recent rise in crime. "Crime is increasing with each passing day," Shekiba Jan, a journalist reporting on criminal affairs for the Arman-e-Milie government daily, told IRIN on Monday.
In areas of the city without electricity, the number of theft cases, many of them armed robberies, had increased substantially, she said, warning as long as gunmen were allowed to roam the streets unhindered, crime would be uncontrolled.

Hardly words of confidence for Massooda Bibi. The 35-year-old housewife's home, located in the centre of the city, was robbed last week while she and her six-member family were out for the evening. "Since the curfew has been lifted, crime has increased," she explained, noting: "Most of these people are unemployed."

But not all the crimes are being committed at night. There has also been an increase in the number of crimes occurring during the day.

Indeed, so noticeable has the increase been that some businessmen, probably the only people with any real financial means, have taken to moving from remote areas of the city to larger, more secure locations like the Soviet-built Mecrorayan housing complex for their own safety.

Following the assassination of Haji Kiftan, a prominent businessman and his two sons, who were gunned down in their home in the west of the city in December, hundreds of friends and relatives called on Afghan President Hamid Karzai to find the culprits. Despite his words of reassurance, the case remains unsolved.

One local businessman, Abdul Latif Bayani, told IRIN that criminal incidents had risen so much in the city, that the existence of armed men from various factions threatened the very security of the capital. Describing the lifting of the curfew as a symbolic gesture by the government to boost public confidence, he remarked as long as there were armed parties and groups in the streets, security would only deteriorate.

Calling for the immediate reintroduction of the night curfew he maintained that as there was no means of entertainment in the city, there was little need for people to be on the street after 2200 anyway.

But according to Afghanistan's Interior Minister, Taj Mohammad Wardak, such concerns were unwarranted. Speaking on Afghan television recently, he noted that the level of crime had decreased by forty percent in the first quarter of this year.

"The government does not agree that crimes have increased," he later told IRIN, adding that the number of police employed was moderately low given the population of the city, now estimated at well over two million.

Despite his official optimism, however, all is not well on the streets of Kabul and public perception of the situation is waning. Recently, the independent Afghan weekly, Farda, expressed deep concern over the level of crime in the city.

Pointing to the consecutive rise in the number of murder and theft cases in the month of December, it read: "The Interior Minister had promised to decrease crime in six months or he would resign." The paper subsequently called on the minister to do so, having failed to keep his promise.

Agha Sherrin Salangi, commander of the city's security and head of a 8,500-strong force working in 14 police precincts and 60 police stations in Kabul, also rejected reports that crime is increasing, but conceded that the expanding population of the city had outstripped current resources following a mass influx of returning refugees from Pakistan and Iran.

In addition to lack of transport and communication materials, salaries remain a major problem for the fledgling force. Over the past 10 months, only three months of salaries had been paid, Salangi explained.

Asked if the night curfew should be reintroduced, he called it a remnant of the Communist era, adding: "Now that the country is proceeding towards peace and development, no night curfew is needed."

According to Kabul Security Command figures, over the past 10 months, in addition to minor crimes, there had been 48 murders, 80 thefts, 12 kidnappings and 54 drug related crimes. However, one officer at the criminal department, who declined to disclose his name, told IRIN most cases were never reported. "People don't want to report them. They are too scared of the armed men committing these crimes," he explained.

[ENDS]

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