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Crime Casts Shadow on Kabul's Future

Afghanistan: The city's instability underscores how much power still rests with armed militias.


KABUL, Afghanistan — Zafar lived just long enough after he was dragged from his house and stoned to tell his family the name of one of his killers.

No one knows how he got back to his home on the western outskirts of Kabul late last month. At midnight, he banged on the gate and was found lying in the road, screaming with pain.

His father, mother and wife never dreamed of going to the police, who now patrol the capital, for help that night. They didn't trust them.

And although the family later told police the killer's name, no one has been arrested. The family was so terrified of reprisals by the killers that they moved from their village of Khojajam.

Crime poses one of the biggest threats to peace and stability in the city, underscoring just how much power resides with commanders of armed militias.

As Afghanistan struggles for stability, Prime Minister Hamid Karzai's interim government is in charge of Kabul but has little control in many provincial areas. Karzai has repeatedly called for the international security force, or ISAF, to be extended beyond the capital, despite opposition from the U.S. and other participants in the peacekeeping mission.

The German government recently presented a fleet of 48 new cars to Kabul's fledgling police force, but only a dozen are being used to patrol the inner city at night. On the outskirts, there are police foot patrols. The ISAF also patrols in vehicles and on foot.

Police officials insist that there is no need for more patrols. They say crime is under control.

Even in the western and southern regions, where crime is most common, locals say the security situation has improved since the era of the Taliban and earlier. But they are convinced that once the ISAF leaves, the crime situation will deteriorate sharply. Britain announced recently that it would extend the term of its peacekeepers from April until at least June.

Despite the presence of the police and the ISAF in western Kabul, the area is actually controlled by a powerful local warlord, Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, who is allied with the Northern Alliance forces that now control the Interior and Defense ministries and the Kabul police.

Locals suspect that Sayyaf's large, armed and well-paid militia is behind much of the crime in the area. And no one here believes the police--unpaid and threadbare--are ready to take it on.

While it is not clear whether Sayyaf's men are behind the shots fired at peacekeepers in the area, some believe that local police may have cut their own deals with Sayyaf or his commanders, who are the only real power in the area. Last week, there was an attack on two ISAF checkpoints: Of the seven later arrested, five were members of the Kabul police, and one was from a local militia.

Zafar's mother, Gulchehrah, 45, pulls her dead son's photograph from the shelf and places it gently on the rug, facing her visitors. Beside her sits Zafar's wife, Nafisa, 25, cross-legged, nursing her newborn son, Jamshaid.

The family was so frightened of reprisals that they were reluctant to speak the name of Azizullah, the man the dying Zafar had blamed. They added that they believed he was killed by friends in Sayyaf's militia who had pressed him to join the force a month earlier.

"His friends were with Sayyaf. I think he was killed by his friends because of some contention," Gulchehrah says.

It took Zafar's sisters a day of wandering to find where he'd been taken: a ditch beneath a low stone wall where they saw his hat and shoes. The place was strewn with large rocks.

"It looked as if the men stood on top of a small wall when they stoned him," says one sister, Jamilah, 18, her face anguished.

Zafar told his family that the killers had placed a huge rock on his chest, as well as pelted him with large rocks.

In villages scattered along the western and southern reaches of Kabul, safety is far from certain.

Saduzai Obdaidee, an engineer in Proshzai Nawabade Charahi Qamber village, says the new police appeared in the area three months ago.

Obdaidee described one robbery 50 yards from the police hut. Officers didn't respond to calls for help, he says.

"There are many robberies around here. People are very afraid," he says. "There is shooting at night. If there were not ISAF people, we could not stay here. No one could stay."

Sayyaf's boys, he says, are young, ill-educated and "very, very dangerous".

Like Sayyaf's militia, the Kabul police are mainly former Northern Alliance moujahedeen fighters. They are loyal to another powerful former moujahedeen commander, Gen. Abdul Basir, who now heads the city police.

With Sayyaf and Basir on the same side, many locals doubt that Basir's police are willing to take on Sayyaf's soldiers.

Sherabuddin, 27, and nine police colleagues share a small mud shed in Kompanee village in western Kabul, eight of them sleeping like sardines at night while two go out on foot patrol. For four months they have not been paid.

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