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Kabul quickly descends into crime

As the Afghan capital of Kabul quickly descends into crime and chaos, residents are calling for law and order. By Jim Maceda.
/ Source: NBC News

For Kabul banana seller Abdul Aziz, news reports that Afghan leaders meeting in Germany have reacted coolly to a U.N.-backed peacekeeping force entering Afghanistan are too much to bear. “There is no security in Kabul,” he complained. “My car was stolen just last night. This place is chaos. We need a peacekeeping force in here now!”

ANY SEMBLANCE OF law and order during the Taliban reign has disappeared under the new power in town — the Northern Alliance, a group of warlords that last ruled Kabul from 1992-1996.

And Kabul merchant Aziz isn’t the only one complaining. Afghans are expressing a growing malaise as chaos descends on the capital.

There are fears that the explosive social mix that is Kabul — where there are hundreds of thousands of weapons but no government — could spiral out of control, leading to the kind of internecine fighting that left much of the capital in ruins the last time the new government ruled the town.

In order to provide some sense of security, the Northern Alliance says it will maintain its heavily armed checkpoints outside the city, and turn over policing to about 1,200 Interior Ministry police, who will attempt to instill order in a city of two million.

While some of these officers are graduates of Kabul’s Police Academy, most are untrained volunteers with borrowed uniforms and old Soviet-era weapons. Police officials maintain that despite a dearth of crime-fighting basics — like fingerprint ink, cameras, radios and police cars — the capital is under control.


Gen. Abdul Wahat Sharifi, who commands Kabul’s 2nd Precinct, even maintains that major crimes like homicides and grand theft, are down, though lesser crimes, like petty theft and pick-pocketing, are on the rise.

Sharifi, whose district includes the busy Kabul bazaar, blames all the “talk of chaos” in Kabul on a “psychology of fear” left over from the repressive Taliban years.

“People are safe in our hands,” Sharifi said. “It is true that there are too many weapons out there, a result of 22 years of civil war. But I’m confident our leadership will soon give the order to collect these weapons, and we will obey.”

Still, in the streets, Kabul feels less safe with each passing day. Besides the street crime experienced in the capital, guest houses and hotels — most inhabited by foreign journalists — now have 24-hour armed guards. While crime statistics for Afghan civilians are virtually non-existent, in the past three weeks eight foreign journalists have been killed. Only three were reporting at the time of their deaths; the other five were murdered and robbed.


Authorities have ordered a strictly enforced 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew for Kabul’s residents, but armed and uniformed “police” are allowed to patrol the streets. However, one high-ranking police officer told NBC News that common criminals are posing as soldiers in order to break the curfew. They rob homes and steal cars and generally wreak havoc on the population.

“These units have no discipline,” the source said on condition of anonymity. “And we cannot control them. I am a general in the police with 35 years experience. I have rank, but today, in these conditions, no authority.”

Some Afghans are starting to blame the Northern Alliance for the current state of lawlessness in Kabul. After losing battles to the Taliban for the last five years, the alliance is now in charge — but not in control.

Compounding the problem, Northern Alliance leaders are now insisting that they can handle Afghanistan’s security problems alone — with no foreign interference. The alliance has reacted negatively to the early presence of about 100 British troops that secured Kabul’s airport recently. A group of armed Russian medical experts, however, have been welcomed.

With the question of security up in the air at U.N.-sponsored talks in Bonn, Germany, professor Michael Clarke, an Afghan expert at King’s College in London, said it’s already too late for peacekeepers to bring law and order. “I think the opportunity has been missed,” he said. “International forces should have been allowed into Kabul in the very early stages.”

There are also signs that Afghan warlords are carving up the capital — and asserting control over lucrative drug routes as front lines continue to fall, Afghan officials say.

Even if an international peacekeeping force is welcomed in Afghanistan, its efforts to reestablish law and order may be too late.

NBC’s Jim Maceda is on assignment in Afghanistan.