Police appear to hinder Afghan security efforts

Shakedowns, bribes and stealing of food are said to be common

January 05, 2002|By THE BOSTON GLOBE

JALALABAD, Afghanistan - Every night for the past week, Syed Raqab has squatted on the flat mud roof of his house, holding a flashlight and an aging bird gun, waiting for robbers.

They come quietly, and Raqab thinks he knows who they are: the police. He says it's the only explanation he can come up with as to why the police refused to search for suspects when his brother's house next door was broken into a week ago yesterday. Or why robbers fleeing recently from another house hoisted themselves over a broken wall, right into the back yard of the local police station.

As Afghanistan struggles to build a government, the very people who are supposed to bring order in some cities appear to be undermining the effort. Nowhere is that more apparent than in Jalalabad, where warlords rule and where shakedowns and bribes are routine.

More than 1,000 mujahedeen are supposed to operate as city police, but they rarely do. And they are increasingly suspected of committing crimes. Local relief workers say the mujahedeen are stealing food meant for the hungry.

It's almost enough to make some people yearn for the Taliban.

"I don't like the Taliban at all, but what is going on now is not safe," Raqab said. "I don't believe these people will ever be lawful. I don't want the mujahedeen or the Taliban, but we can't be by ourselves."

Comparisons to the Taliban are being made with increasing frequency as illegal activity increases in Jalalabad.

During the time of strict religious rule - when the punishment for stealing could be the amputation of a hand - crime was almost nonexistent, residents said. Guns weren't allowed on the street, and order was considered holy. When the Taliban fell, Jalalabad quickly became an Afghan version of the Wild West as residents brought guns into the open again and set out to reclaim old livelihoods.

While authorities and civilians agree that the situation has improved in recent months, it is a city full of robbers and thieves, where cars are stolen with drivers in them and where looting occurs nightly.

Statistics are hard to come by, but local hospital officials agree that the number of gunshot wounds and violent crime injuries is up. Maybe one a week used to occur, but now it's one or two a day, said Abdul Karim, assistant to the doctor in the surgical ward of the city's largest hospital.

Gul Karim, assistant security chief for Hazarat Ali, the warlord overseeing city security, said yesterday that the mujahedeen had the city under control. Pressed, he said that there were some pockets of crime throughout the city but that he expected order to come any day.

He proudly described the roughly 1,000 soldiers in Jalalabad, who are stationed in six department check posts. A new department of 2,000 "soldiers in waiting" has also been created, although critics say that is more to protect Ali than any citizen. No figures were available on the number of arrests in recent weeks. "There is a new chief, new regulations," said Karim. "It takes some time."

Residents said they would not mind waiting if there were some assurance that order will be restored, but such assurances appear to be lacking. They fear a return to the conditions of the early 1990s, before the Taliban took control, when rape, robbery and kidnappings were common and punishment was almost nonexistent.

Then, the city was controlled by the very mujahedeen who are now back in power.

"We never wanted the mujahedeen back," said Sardar, Raqab's brother, whose house was broken into. "They bring with them all the danger, the robberies. They don't protect us." Like most Afghans, he has one name. The robbers broke down the compound's back door with a rifle and got jewelry and clothes before the four brothers chased them off.

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