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Increase in Crime, Lawlessness Plague Afghan Government - 2002-01-14


In Afghanistan, the government's effort to stabilize the country is being severely undermined by a sharp increase in crime and lawlessness. Many people are demanding a larger international troop presence to protect them, even as some government officials insist the situation is under control.

In a cramped room at the Wazir Ahkbar Khan hospital in downtown Kabul, a doctor is tending to a patient whose story is becoming familiar in this city of one million.

"Abdullah," which is not his real name, flips off the blanket covering him to expose a fresh bullet wound to his leg. He says he got the wound while struggling with a gunman who tried to rob him and steal his car. Abdullah does not want to identify his attacker, nor does he want to reveal his real name. He says it would be dangerous for him to talk any more about the incident.

His doctor, Zahir, stands by silently. In a separate interview he says Abdullah is the first gunshot victim the hospital has treated since the fall of the Taleban two months ago.

Dr. Zahir says he believes Kabul is getting safer. He says Abdullah is the exception rather than the rule and he hopes he will never have to treat a gunshot victim again.

But an English-speaking man named Najibullah says he heard the doctor tell a much different story. "The doctor said to me in private, 'It is dangerous for us to explain everything. About the security of Kabul, we know it is not good. But we cannot report this to the journalists.'"

It is not known if anybody has been ordering Kabul residents to keep quiet about what some say is a rising tide of lawlessness. But reports of murders, armed robberies and kidnappings in the city in recent days have deeply troubled and embarrassed Afghanistan's interim government, which has been desperately trying to restore order since it took power late last month.

Last week, two prominent medical doctors were shot and robbed while walking home at night. The week before, the body of a Kabul taxi driver last seen picking up Northern Alliance soldiers, was found outside of the city with four bullet wounds in his chest.

Since the fall of the Taleban, most everyone in Kabul appears to be convinced that the city's crime rate is getting worse. They have no statistics, but they say they are scared.

A local shopkeeper, Zami Ullah, is one of them. He says he is scared because many of the robberies in the city are being committed by Afghan security men and soldiers serving under various warlords, not common thieves.

Mr. Ullah says three weeks ago, he was getting his Toyota minivan fixed at a garage near a police station. He says a man dressed in a police uniform approached him, and without any evidence, accused him of having stolen the car from a Taleban soldier. The policeman confiscated the car at gunpoint and drove away, he says.

In a multi-national effort to restore order, the British-led International Security Assistance Force, with about 1,500 troops, has begun patrolling in and around Kabul during the past few days. Three thousand more are expected to arrive over the next several weeks.

The interim government, for its part, has ordered all armed men to leave the city and turn in their weapons. It is not known how many weapons the government has collected so far. But Mr. Najibullah says he believes there are too many guns hidden away in people's homes for the campaign to have much impact. "They can collect the weapons from outside of the houses," he said. "But the people have weapons in their homes. Collecting these weapons is difficult for the government because every house has a weapon."

And the problem does not exist just in Kabul. Throughout Afghanistan security remains the number one concern for Afghans, who desperately need western aid to recover from more than two decades of war.

As one pessimistic Kabul resident points out, it is impossible to rebuild a country when traveling around could mean death.

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