The robbers who cleaned out Qader Yusifi, a Kabul moneychanger, were swift and
single-minded. Within minutes they burst into his home, locked his wife and children
into a bathroom, and stole away with £6,000 - his entire working capital.
But they were no ordinary thieves, said Mr Qader, hunched over a gaslight after
yet another power cut in his rundown, Soviet-built apartment block.
The masked robbers wore green military fatigues, brandished AK-47 guns and,
according to neighbours, escaped in a Toyota Landcruiser with tinted windows
- vehicle of choice for Afghan army commanders, former Mujahideen fighters and
senior government officials.
"I am 100% sure they were military," he said. And there was little
hope of police collaring the culprits. "The police are working with the
thieves, I am sure."
Laura Bush's surprise appearance in Kabul yesterday signalled growing US confidence
in Afghanistan's once-precarious security. The Taliban insurgency is waning,
military commanders claim, boosting reconstruction efforts.
But ordinary Afghans, alarmed by a swelling crime wave, see it differently.
Armed robbery, kidnapping and intimidation have displaced the Taliban as the
principal security problem. The line between cops and robbers is becoming increasingly
Although no official statistics are available, the perception of a worsening
situation is widespread. Frustration boiled over in the southern city of Kandahar
this month when thousands of men took to the streets to protest at a spate of
kidnappings that left at least one child dead.
Calling for the resignation of the governor and police chief, the crowd smashed
shop windows and destroyed several vehicles. Days later, the Kabul government
transferred the provincial security commander to another area.
Demobilised Mujahideen fighters, underpaid policemen and corrupt officials
are behind the lawlessness, according to Afghan officials, western diplomats,
Three Scotland Yard detectives flew back to Britain this week after inquiries
into the death of Stephen MacQueen, the British consultant shot in his car in
Kabul on March 7.
By contrast with the US-led training of the new Afghan army, the 38,000-strong
police force is considered a failure by diplomats and other officials.
Scanty training and poor wages are part of the problem. Judge Abdulbaset Bakhteyari
said his children had been detained for several hours recently after police
pulled their driver over to seek a bribe.
"Officers have no faith in the future so they work for their own benefit,"
said Judge Bakhteyari, who works with AK-47 propped against the wall behind
Thousands of newly demobilised mujahideen fighters have been inducted into
police ranks. Many have retained their criminal sidelines.
The crime wave has heightened worries that a culture of impunity has taken
root in the Karzai administration.
Several aid officials, requesting anonymity, said they believed a senior police
officer was behind the killing of five Médecins sans Frontières
(MSF) aid workers last June, which prompted the agency to leave Afghanistan.
The officer concerned has retained his job.
Earlier this month two Afghan aid workers were killed in the western Farah
province, allegedly by renegade police officers.
When angry relatives protested to the provincial police chief, his bodyguards
opened fire, killing one.
Western officials have pressed the interior minister, Ali Ahmad Jalali for
reforms. Last weekend, he announced a shake-up of the police.
Yet the Karzai government's greatest crime challenge may lie further up the
ladder. Gleaming buildings sprouting up around Kabul are seen as testament to
the heroin trade, which accounts for over 40% of the Afghan economy. Not one
major smuggler has been prosecuted.