In the second part of his reporting on Kabul’s crime scene, AAN’s Fabrizio Foschini deals with the characteristics of the current spike in criminality, in particular detailing the most frequent types of offences and their impact on the lives of the population. He tries to assess the difficult task of the police force in curbing crime in the capital, in consideration of structural limits and flaws, the murky connections between some criminal networks and state officials and the political polarisation that makes police action even more difficult.
The first part of this two-part series on a crime in Kabul, “Kabul’s Expanding Crime Scene (Part 1): The roots of today’s underworld” can be read here.
- Crimes rates significantly increased in recent years in Kabul according to several estimates and records
- The spike reflects a geographic expansion as well as new forms of criminality, including more violent crime and an increase in drug related crimes
- Petty theft such as pickpocketing has become organised on public transport and on the streets
- Robberies and car-jacking often include weapons and can be lethal, even for part-time or occasional criminals
- Organised crime gangs engage in kidnappings and extortion schemes (bajgiri), targeting a range of businesses from petrol stations to factories
- Despite efforts to break the links between organised crime and the police, such as reshuffles and rotations of police commanders, entrenched and powerful interests mean impunity is still the norm
- The publication of “most wanted” lists has been unprecedented, with a few high profile arrests, but corruption prevails, compounded by police numbers too low to meet the growing population and crime levels
- The toxic political atmosphere means the more aggressive stance by the police polarises opinion, even when moving against genuine suspects
After a decade of ups and downs, the first dramatic rise of criminal activity in Kabul happened in 2014 and 2015, its primary causes being the economic and political crisis following a significant reduction of the international presence and the troubled electoral contest.
Another significant increase in crime rates took place between 2017 and 2018. Independent analysts estimated an increase of 35 per cent during the latter year, while according to statistics made public by the Ministry of Interior, there were nearly 8,000 criminal cases in Kabul during the past two Afghan solar years 1396 and 1397 (corresponding to March 2017 to March 2018 and March 2018 to March 2019, respectively) which constituted a dramatic increase compared to previous years (though there was a reduction from 4,500 cases registered in 1396 to 3,400 in 1397). Criminality in Kabul is now understood by many observers, by the government and, most poignantly, by the city’s population, as possibly the single most important problem to be addressed by the authorities (see here and here). It represents an additional burden, besides the political vicissitudes, on all those who work and live in the city, weighing in particular on those left more unprotected in terms of place of residence, lack of connections and access to state institutions or economic safety nets in case of trauma. It certainly affects negatively the day-to-day life of vulnerable groups, including women, with real or perceived insecurity traditionally posing a serious challenge to their ability to negotiate an independent social role in the face of family constraints and a conservative society. (1)
New typologies of crimes appeared or other, pre-existing patterns worsened. Home raids by armed burglars, once common only in peripheral neighbourhoods of the city, can happen now in very central areas as well; likewise, personally-motivated murders have started to appear in central neighbourhoods that used to be relatively safe. Pickpocketing or robbery on public transport, especially taxis, or on the streets are now incredibly widespread and not confined to the hours of darkness. Stalking of people going to the bank to withdraw money in order to rob them on their way home are more frequent, sometimes with the connivance of bank clerks who tip off bandits. Finally, the unprecedented expansion of the Kabul drug market, both in terms of the number of users and the range of the substances on sale, has created a new lucrative business and fierce competition among pushers.
The spike in criminal activity is not confined to the already existing criminal hotspots. In fact, the streets of all areas of the capital except a few walled enclaves (AAN reporting here) now witness instances of crimes. (2)
Jeb-e tan mehmankhana-e man ast, astin-et daliz-am.
Your pockets are my guesthouse, your sleeve my aisle.
This somewhat bold remark was made to the author by an Afghan disciple of that time-honoured and international profession, pick-pocketing. Nowadays in Kabul the latter seems to be at an all-time high. It is actually difficult to find anybody who has not yet been robbed of his phone or her bag at least once.
Pick-pockets work in groups, especially on shared taxis. For many commuters heading back to the more reasonably priced comfort of a suburban home, waving at a taxi to stop can turn into a dangerous adventure. Traveling by taxi could already be dangerous when moving from the outskirts of Kabul to other cities: groups of robbers would look for prospective victims, posing as a taxi almost ready to depart and looking for a last passenger to fill the vehicle. The unfortunate traveller could then be brought to a remote spot and robbed and, in some cases, killed. However, the dangers of using taxis inside the city have increased in the past few years. Nowadays, many Kabulis refuse to get into a taxi where more than one person is already seated. But hiring a taxi darbast (closed door) is a lot more expensive than using the motarha-ye laini, shared taxis following a fixed route, usually full of other passengers. Victims are thus made to sit in the front seat, where they can be easily threatened or overpowered by the driver’s accomplices already sitting in the back seats, their goods snatched and they themselves thrown out of the car.
But the tactic most often employed seems to be pick-pocketing: irrespective of the position on the front or backseat, the victim is distracted with some chat or request by the driver or one of the accomplices, while another robs him with dexterity. Then, after some code-word from the accomplices has conveyed news of the successful swindle, the passenger is suddenly told by the driver that there was a mistake and the taxi is not going to the agreed destination but somewhere else, thus the need to hastily get out. Many passengers realise the theft only after they have been dropped off.
Nor is it safer to walk. On the crowded sidewalks and in the narrow alleys of the old city, pedestrians would often come in physical contact with one another. If someone pretends to be hit by you or a karachiwalla (hawker or porter pulling a cart) hits you and starts an argument, there is a good chance that they are trying to steal your wallet. The great danger of walking the streets nowadays is that the risk of being robbed at knife or gun-point run rather high, including in areas that were safe, even after dark, only a few years ago. Women’s experience of street safety has a profoundly different dimension, with widespread verbal, physical and sexual harassment, reports of which are on the rise (read here).
The soaring rate of unemployment and faltering economy has compounded the problem of petty criminality in Kabul. The growing number of drug users is often assumed to have contributed to an increase in petty crimes to fund drug use, though the correlation also points to an overlap of the risk factors associated with crime and violent behaviour that are also risk factors of drug use, such as mental health problems, displacement, unemployment and lack of rule of law. The main concentrations of drug users are in Bagh-e Ali Mardan in the Old City and in the area between Pul-e Sukhta and Kot-e Sangi in West Kabul (AAN reporting here: (AAN reporting here). The correlation between the presence of drug users and high crime has been assumed by many observers, most recently by an editorial in Daily Afghanistan starkly advocating the action of police forces against drug users (though government policy has also begun to adopt elements of an evidence-based public health response to drug use which has been found elsewhere to be more effective than criminal sanctions – read here).
Occasional criminals resort to theft and robberies, while others carry out more ambitious schemes such as kidnappings, usually the preserve of organised criminality. A resident of Karte Se told AAN how recently three young men from the area, all first-time offenders, were charged with the kidnapping of the baby daughter of their neighbour, a moneylender. She was eventually released after money was paid by the family, but one of the kidnappers kept using the same sim card that he had been using to ask for the ransom, and soon all three had been caught by the NDS. A very similar instance in March 2019 ended in tragedy: the six-year old daughter of a moneylender was kidnapped in Khairkhana and was later killed when the family was unable to meet the ransom request. The two kidnappers, who knew the victims and resided in the same neighbourhood, were barely 18 years old.
Indeed, something that stands out is the increasingly violent outcome of episodes of crime, even of those committed by occasional criminals. Young men carry guns to stop cars and motorcycles to rob the drivers and steal the vehicle. In several cases, at the slightest show of resistance or non-compliance, there has been no hesitation in using their weapons with lethal consequences. To sum up with the words of a Kabul resident: “we’ve reached a stage where the taxi drivers are afraid of the passengers, and the passengers are afraid of the taxi drivers.”
Organised crime and police connections
Given the number of young unemployed or underemployed men, it is very easy for criminal groups to recruit, and to find ‘guns for hire’ among one’s community or neighbourhood. But what are the lucrative illegal businesses in the hands of the organised criminality?
Extortion schemes (bajgiri) seem to be a major source of income, at least in some parts of the city. The threat of kidnappings for ransom or violence against one’s family has been for many years a regular part of every Afghan businessman’s life. Major businessmen and traders are contacted and warned by criminals, asking them to pay high sums of money lest they or their families be killed or kidnapped. According to local analysts interviewed by AAN, most of the owners of factories in the industrial district of Pul-e Charkhi pay protection money to local strongmen in order to avoid trouble. The same risk is faced by owners of gasoline stations, restaurants and shops along the Shomali road all the way from the Khairkhana pass to Charikar: whenever local commanders want, they stop and extract money from them.
The threat posed by organised crime was mentioned to AAN as possibly the single most important reason why many rich businessmen strive to become MPs. They do not seek the economic benefits or the political power in order to further their businesses; rather the MP status is seen as protection from being targeted by criminals by endowing them with a higher degree of waseta (political connections) and an official status that would make any attempt on them charged with political import.
The difference between the situation in Kabul and a ‘classic protection racket’ like that experienced by many parts of (for example) southern Italy is that no systematic extortion of shopkeepers in a given neighbourhood seem to take place. Those targeted for extortion are mostly entrepreneurs and big traders or the owners of major commercial centres on one hand, and street stalls vendors on the other. It is possible that the average Kabul shopkeeper is not wealthy enough for big criminals to extract much money, or at least that the profits would not be worth the outcry that a systematic targeting of a broad and respectable section of the population could cause. Also, the very chaotic and mobile pattern of residence and work in the city probably hinders the stabilisation of a territorial control of the mafia type, based on the acquaintance and enforcing of protection relations between the criminal group and the community of a given neighbourhood. Probably, the sheer number of armed criminals would make clear-cut territorial control more difficult to achieve and preserve.
The effects of this random targeting, however, can be even more depressing on the society and economy than to the regular ‘milking’ to which businessmen are subjected by mafias in some other countries. Many big traders and entrepreneurs, faced with the risk of sudden loss of unknown amounts of money or of brutal violence against their families, have relocated their families and productive activities to nearby countries. Those who cannot afford to relocate are brought to the limits of their endurance. On Sunday 26 January (a working day in Afghanistan), most traders of the Quwa-ye Markaz area, the city’s bazar of choice for spare parts and machinery, held a shop lockout to protest against the extortions to which they are subjected. They accused a militia commander from Panjshir, who is nicknamed Haseeb-e Quwa-ye Markaz, of having demanded from them sums of between 5,000 and 10,000 USD, depending on the size of their shops, and of having recently sent threats to those who had refused to pay. Most of the spare parts traders of the area hail from Farah province: according to those interviewed by AAN, their outsider status left them without sufficient waseta to call on in Kabul, hence the decision to organise a public protest.
A number of violent crimes like kidnappings and robberies are constantly carried out. Neighbourhoods where some relatively affluent residents also live, like PD3, PD4 or PD10 are epicentres of kidnappings: groups from other districts come and kidnap people who are then held in the suburbs or outside Kabul, but they get their information about the victims from street vendors or local residents first. Shopkeepers across the city may in turn become targets for robbers at the moment when they close shop and go home with the earnings of a day’s work.
Organised criminality in Kabul does not seek, or rather does not manage, to completely control the lucrative business of illicit domestic drug sales. It might have done so in the beginning, but now the number of users is so high and the availability of drugs so great that there are a lot of independent initiatives by sellers to get into this business. Many shops that sell drugs directly belong to powerful people, especially in strategic transit positions like Qargha, Bibi Mahru Hill and Pul-e Charkhi, but many others do business on their own and simply pay some form of protection money to the main dealers to be allowed to operate.
Extortion racketeers target big traders or owners of companies, but from the small shopkeepers, smaller amounts are demanded in order to be left alone. In particular, those selling illegal substances or having an illegal shop, such as a street stall or a slightly more stable but likewise irregular ghurfa (shack) are required to pay fees regularly. (3) Instead of the local criminal gangs it is more typically the traffic police or the employees of the municipality who demand bribes from these smaller shopkeepers in exchange for not making trouble for them. The local gangs then get their cut from the police.
In many a Kabul neighbourhood, a modus vivendi between the police and criminals has developed. Criminals caught by law enforcement resort to intimidation or corruption, depending on their political weight and that of their captors, in order to avoid being brought to court. Even once the case is brought to court, the levels of waseta on each side determine the outcome of the trial. The all-too frequent failure of the judiciary to try or convict such criminals reinforces both the sense of impunity and the importance of the waseta system.
According to a local resident interviewed by AAN, in June 2019 a member of the security detail of the Attorney General was killed on Darulaman Road. He was riding his motorcycle towards home in the evening and a group of armed people stopped him to steal his motorcycle. He was armed with his service pistol and resisted, reportedly injuring one of the criminals before being killed by the others. His being a member of the security forces prompted a request for action at the desk of the chief police of PD 6. However, the culprits turned out to be a local group of gangsters with family connection to one of the wakil-e gozar (the neighbourhood representative) of the area, who dissuaded the family of the victim from pursuing a legal course of action and pleaded with the local police station to make sure all evidence and the dossier of the case were destroyed.
Several rotations of police commanders around the different city districts have ensured that top-level connections between them and the criminals are nowadays rare. (4) But at all levels, every policeman treading a new sidewalk faces a dire choice between rejecting all previous agreements with local gangs that have been put in place by his predecessors or re-negotiating them according to his own status. Without clear and solid backing from within the upper echelons of the Ministry of Interior it is usually impossible to tackle the entrenched interests and connivance surrounding any lucrative illegal practice that has being carried out in a specific area over a long period of time.
An Afghan analyst working with a foreign diplomatic mission told AAN the tale of a young police commander fresh from the police academy. Newly appointed to the embassies’ area, he tried to erase an age-old abusive practice prevalent there. The policemen deployed to the alley where the Pakistani consulate stands demands bribes from people applying for a Pakistani visa in order to let them through and quicken their application; given the urgent healthcare often required by those applying, many are willing to pay. When the new commander interfered with this practice, problems arose between him and the policemen in charge of the Pakistani consulate street, who all belong to the entourage of a senior powerbroker. Twice the two groups of policemen argued until shots were traded between them. After the second incident, the NDS arrived on the scene and arrested the young commander, who was still in custody at the time of this writing.
The other side of the coin: Reforming the MoI
Since the early days of the post-2001 Afghan institutions, the need to reform the police corps through extensive vetting and training programs was clearly identified as a priority by the government and the international community alike. For a long time, though, efforts in this direction were far from successful. The lack of decisive action in tackling the crucial issue of appointments left a corrupt system in place that had developed after the fall of the Taleban. In Kabul, a mixture of clientelism by jihadi commanders and the offer of positions for sale determined who was going to be appointed. The implied outcomes of this system were enhanced opportunities for patronage by political strongmen over the police and a predatory attitude by the officers towards the population, in order to make up for the money invested in getting the job.
President Ashraf Ghani first came to power in 2014, at the time of the international drawdown and the first increase in the level of criminality, and in early 2015 his government ordered a changeover of almost all of Kabul police districts’ commanders. However, other ranks were usually left deployed to the same neighbourhoods for years, allowing them to develop a modus vivendi, or worse, an active complicity with the local criminal networks. In July 2017, at the height of another spike of criminal activity in Kabul, Ghani decreed that all police officers who had spent more than three years in Kabul would have to be transferred to the provinces and be replaced by policemen from the provinces. The government’s rationale was to tackle a problem well-known to the Afghan public, that while ordinary policemen were dying on the frontlines, there were politically connected cops hiding in Kabul, making good money from the bribes they extorted from the population. However, the move was considered by some to be too rash and to have contributed to a deterioration in security in both Kabul and the provinces. According to a former policeman interviewed by AAN, the MoI directorate in charge of the rotation of policemen was not altogether impermeable to bribes and many officers managed to stop their transfer or to be reappointed after a short while in another part of Kabul, while the newly deployed cops coming from the provinces often lacked even the most basic knowledge of the city’s environment and the power – again, the waseta factor at play – to tackle criminals.
Since then, reshuffles of Kabul PD commanders have been periodical, usually after poor security performances or to enhance higher standards for appointment.
However, there are also other structural problems: Kabul police are not numerous enough to do their job properly, even discounting the problem of corruption and abusive behaviour. Despite requests by police commanders to double the size of the Kabul police dating back at least to 2010, overall numbers are still low, with slightly more than 10,000 officers. Every hawza or police district has around 360 officers. This is not a high number, given that some PDs host several hundred thousand residents. (PD 10 recently received an additional 200 officers, but only because of the presence of high-profile government facilities and diplomatic missions in the ‘Green Zone’ that includes Wazir Akbar Khan). (5)
The government’s most recent steps to tackle the unprecedented increase in the criminal threat to the lives of Kabul residents have been quite remarkable, as they include a more confrontational approach towards criminals. Even some of those perceived as politically connected were singled out. Amrullah Saleh, the former NDS chief, long after his latest short tenure as Minister of the Interior (23 December 2018 to 19 January 2019) has been among the chief instigators of this new policy.
On 6 January 2019 the government released a list of the 222 most wanted criminals in Kabul, asking people’s cooperation to track them. The government promised to also expose the names of powerful individuals linked to armed and mafia groups and land-grabs in the capital. A second list was published by the Ministry of Interior (MoI) on 10 January 2019 with the names of 16 individuals accused of land-grabs, intimidation, disrespect to the law and support for illegal armed groups. However, with the exceptions of Haji Mirza Safi, a parliamentary candidate from PD 8, and a couple of retired commanders from the Shomali, Karim-e Qarabagh and Najibullah Islamyar, with large numbers in their armed retinues, the rest of the names on the list did not meet the MoI claim of exposing very powerful and politically connected kingpins. In what seems to have become a tradition at the start of the year, a similar list of the most wanted criminals was published on 27 January 2020; again, it featured only 16 names, mostly accused of murder.
Despite their incompleteness, the publication of these lists is a rather unprecedented move by the MoI. In the first one, in particular, the number of people accused was too vast to be considered politically-aimed or ethnically-biased and the real turning point was that the ministry followed the publication with some, if limited action.
Amrullah Saleh, apart from trying to regulate the process of rotation of Kabul police officers previously ordered by the government, enhanced the operational capacity of the police by allowing policemen from a given PD to pursue offenders in any parts of the city without having to inform pre-emptively that PD’s commander. Moreover, cops were given license to open fire on criminals who did not heed to their stop orders. On 4 July 2019, AAN witnessed on the western side of Aliabad Hill, near Kabul University, the arrest of one criminal by the name of Zahed-e Siah (“Black Zahed”), who was shot and injured while trying to escape arrest. (6)
Indeed, during the following months, many wanted criminals, notorious for kidnappings and murders, were caught by the police or killed in encounters. Enayat Qochi was killed during a firefight in Paghman along with three of his men, while on 6 July, six other members of his gang were arrested in Mir Bacha Kot district. On June 15 it was the turn of Nabi Kohbandi, who was also killed in a raid by the police in PD9. Commander Alem, alias Martol, followed suit on 28 June, although he was captured and not killed. (7)
The most dramatic capture was however that of Abdul Hamid Khorasani on 25 June 2019. A former policeman, he turned to active politics in 2017, during the anti-government ‘tent protest’ that followed a terrorist attack in Zanbaq Junction (read here and here). Afterwards, he announced a movement called Nohzat-e Islami Muqawammat (the Islamic Front of Resistance), expounding an ideology derived from the jihadi parties and highly critical of the government. The movement found its core supporters among people from the Shomali Plain and Panjshir, numerous especially in northern Kabul, and when in January 2019 the NDS tried to arrest him on charges of murder, kidnapping, robbery and extortion, a crowd gathered in the Khairkhana neighbourhood where his office was located and helped him escape.
Subsequently, while on the run, Khorasani had appeared in several videos, dressed in military fatigue and posing as a guerrilla leader while accusing the then Minister of Interior Amrullah Saleh of being a CIA spy and of persecuting him for political reasons. In one of the videos, he also torched an Afghan flag, while displaying a flag of the mujahedin government (1992-96, de facto recognised until 2001 by a majority of countries). As the activities of Abdul Hamid Khorasani had acquired a political tint, his arrest did as well, effected during his participation in a political rally in June. His case shows the convergence of criminal and political undertones likely to come into play in the case of any major police operation against illegal armed groups.
Curbing criminality in Kabul: a highly politicised issue
After Saleh quit his post in order to join Ghani’s presidential ticket in 2019, his successor Massud Andarabi kept up the same policies, at least with regards to Kabul. The city checkpoints were garrisoned by multiple security forces and a more thorough checks of documents and vehicles were put in place. Joint patrols and search operations at night started to be carried out at a much faster pace compared to the past. In this, Andarabi was assisted by Sayed Roshandil, the Kabul garrison commander since September 2018, and by Khoshhal Sadat, the Deputy Interior Ministry for Security, appointed together with Andarabi in February 2019.
Both men shared a special forces background and a pro-active approach; in particular Sadat attracted the attention of observers because of his impressive service record and charismatic leadership (see here and here). His personal and professional credentials were flawless and his special forces’ background provided him with a veritable qawm (community) affiliation that transcended linkages to ethnic or political groups in the eyes of the Afghan public.
This was probably helpful in reducing the scope for interpreting police action as biased towards the governing team and motivated by political considerations. Indeed, the fact that in today’s Afghanistan police action against an individual can always be portrayed as an attack against a certain ethnic or political constituency has made the MoI’s task even more difficult. The role of the police and NDS in post-2001 Afghanistan has regularly been crushed between the competing narratives of centralised state-building and community solidarity that have plagued the Afghan political discourse, with popular support typically swinging from one to another depending on the segment of population considered and on the short-term versus long-term benefits. These age-old Afghan fault lines were looming over the government’s long waited action against criminals especially around elections – usually high season for conspiracy theories in Afghanistan, hence the appointment of widely-accepted professionals to key positions.
However, less than a year after his appointment, Sadat has suddenly been demoted on 16 January. It is difficult to say to which of the most recent security drawbacks his demotion might be linked – whether the killing of the student, Ali Sina Zafari, mentioned in the previous dispatch, and the string of similarly bloody robberies, or the suspicious death of Abdul Satar Ghorbandi, a former Jamiati commander also mentioned in the previous dispatch. Either way it is quite likely that it will not help to improve the situation. Occasional dramatic moves like a police crackdown in a given area, the elimination of the leader of a criminal gang, the reshuffle of police chiefs or the sacking of a high-echelon official, have served only to reassure the public that the government ‘is doing something’, rather than fundamentally reducing crime levels.
It is true that during the last weeks, as during the previous period of hectic police activity following the reforms brought by Saleh, the pace of police operations in the capital is continuing unabated. During the second half of January, the Ministry of Interior released almost every day news of the arrest of robbers or armed gangs in Kabul.
However, this ‘doing something’ can often be portrayed as biased along political or ethnic grounds by all sorts of more or less realistic conspiracy theories. It is not by chance that another illegal armed group leader originally from Panjshir, Haseeb-e Quwa-ye Markaz, who had already been on the run after a failed attempt by the police to capture him last year on charges of murder, seems to be following Khorasani’s path to politicisation. After the shopkeepers’ accusations of extortions put him back on the spotlight, he posted videos on Facebook where he, in turn, accused some government security officials of having asked him to murder six persons on their behalf – among the perspective victims he lists former Taleban Foreign Minister Muttawakil and Khorasani himself; he further accused the NDS of being behind 25-30 of every 50 killings in Kabul. It is apparent, also by the language of defiance and resistance against state oppression he uses, that he tries to capitalise on the murkiness of recent killings like that of Ghorbandi, as well as the fears among the Panjshiris – in this instance, but the same could happen with other communities – that a state crackdown on powerful individuals belonging to their qawm may come to represent a full-fledged attack on the whole of their community.
There have been too many instances of such a ‘personalised’ use of state armed power in Afghanistan in the past two decades for the government to be able to easily dispel such rumours. A most recent reminder of this was provided by the killing of Omaid Nizami, depending on the interlocutor a prominent trader or the leader of a criminal gang, who was killed in the central Baharistan area of Kabul on 31 January. His relatives and family supporters staged a protest march against the MoI and have since blocked Airport Road, asking the government to arrest the alleged killer, former Civil Order Police (ANCOP) commander Zmarai Paikan. Omaid is at least the third prominent member of the Nizami family killed, allegedly by Paikan’s men, in the course of a blood feud which has been ongoing for years and claiming many other lives. Both families originate from the Shomali plain – specifically from the ominously named village of Daku (the word for “dacoit, outlaw” in Afghanistan) – and both feature a mixture of high-ranking police officers (the first victim, Yardel Nezami, was a colonel of the ANP) and criminals on the run. General Paikan himself has been suspended in 2016 and sentenced in over misuse of authority and complicity in murder, however he did not appear in court and has never been arrested although, reportedly, he continues to move freely in Kabul and to employ official vehicles and bodyguards from the MoI. Competition among the two groups, already vying for local power, may have been exacerbated by split loyalties during the electoral campaigns of 2014 and 2019, as it often happens at the local level of politics in Afghanistan.
This polarised interpretation of police action – or the actual manipulation of it – is likely to continue in this never-ending wait for definitive electoral results (AAN analysis here) and a new political balance among the ruling elites. This will no doubt prolong the lack of systematic action against criminal networks on the part of the police force, and to further diminish the confidence that Kabul residents have in the willingness and ability of their government to fight crime. (8)
The whole system of running the security forces apparatus, which is inextricably intertwined with how politics are done in Afghanistan, needs to be changed, before criminality can be fought effectively – let alone tackling the economic and social roots of poverty and marginalisation that leads an increasing portion of the population to resort to crime.
Edited by Christian Bleuer, Reza Kazemi and Thomas Ruttig
(1) Harassment of women and girls and other forms of sexual and gender based offences have not been the focus of specific research during the compilation of this report and are therefore not dealt with here. AAN plans to devote separate research to the subject.
(2) There are a few places that are worth pointing out:
– Jalalabad Road, Hudkhel, PD 9, 21: thefts or kidnappings of travellers and NGO employees;
– Karte Naw, PD 8: house raids, kidnappings of wealthy locals;
– Taimani project, PD 4 – kidnappings and robberies;
– Khairkhana, PD 11, 15 – presence of armed gangs, kidnappings, murders;
– Company, Qargha, Paghman, PD 5, 14: presence of armed gangs, extortions, kidnappings, murders
– Saray-e Shomali and beyond the Khairkhana pass, PD 17: surveillance and targeting of travellers, as in other bandar (land-port, transportation hub) areas of Kabul, extortions
– Pul-e Sukhta, Kot-e Sangi, PD 3 – narcotrafficking
– Dasht-e Barchi, PD 13: robberies
– Quwa-ye Markaz, Deh Afghanan, PD 2: extortions, robberies, narcotrafficking
– Bagh Ali Mardan, PD 1: thefts, narcotrafficking
– Chehel Sotun PD 7: presence of armed gangs, robberies
(3) Street sellers and taxi drivers are sometimes required to pay some small bribe to the ma’yubin, people with disabilities, often conflict related, who traditionally occupy the streets and claim ‘ownership’ of the best spots for stalls or collecting passengers. There is no dearth of real mutilated people in the streets of Kabul. The city’s beggars, however, in a revival of the Three-Penny Opera ambiance, seem to have developed very sophisticated skills at “making-up” their misfortune in order to encourage people’s pity. There are reportedly young children available for rent who, in case of necessity, may be treated with opium to make them quiet and can be dressed with clay-made replicas of horrible wounds and bloodied bandages.
(4) Despite this, the police chief of PD 11 (Khairkhana) has been recently accused by MoI officials of connivance with criminals, in particular of helping wanted offenders to avoid arrest.
(5) On 13 January 2020, MP Abdul Qayyum Khairkhwa, a member of the Internal Security Commission of the Lower House, reported that there were 15,000 police officers for Kabul, although he was referring to the whole of Kabul province.
(6) Aliabad Hill and TV Hill have always been a gathering point for thieves, but this was not a major issue before the road crossing through them that connected the city centre with West Kabul was nearly completed and started to be heavily used by people trying to avoid the traffic of Jada-ye Asmayi or Bagh-e Bala. Nowadays, groups of armed robbers sometimes stop cars even in daylight on top of the hill to rob the passengers.
(7) The recurring instances of firefights and deaths as a result of police operations constitute a serious phenomenon which may require further research (and investigation for potential criminal behaviour on the part of the police if the killings are extra-judicial). They could be the result of facing heavily armed and aggressive criminal groups, but could also originate from other factors. On one hand, a more lethal approach to the use of force by police could be a response to a widespread popular craving for the punishment of the perpetrators, which gains ground every time a new and brutal crime is committed in Kabul. Arrests are considered less effective by the public, because the detainees are often able to get out of jail before the trial either by bribing or intimidating the judiciary. On the other hand, ‘encounter’ outcomes where the criminals are killed rather than arrested could be used by factions inside the security forces to get rid of private or political adversaries.
(8) On 18 February, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) actually announced the final results of the presidential elections, declaring the incumbent Ashraf Ghani the winner with 50.64% of the votes. Arriving almost five months after the elections took place, these results have immediately been disputed by Ghani’s main rival, Dr. Abdullah. The post-electoral confrontation may be expected to continue to clog the operation of the government for some more time.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020
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