'We Felt Safer Under The Taliban'
Say Kabul Residents


"This is clear," said one diplomat, who added that there are around 700,000 armed people in Afghanistan. "They have the culture of the Kalashnikov. They don't want to lay down their arms."

(AFP) - Just 10 weeks after the Taliban fled Kabul city, Afghans are already starting to say they felt safer under the now-defeated hardline militia than under the power-sharing interim administration that has replaced it.

Murders, robberies and hijackings in the capital, factional clashes in the north and south of the country, instability in Kandahar and banditry on roads linking main centres are beginning to erode the optimism that greeted the inauguration of the interim administration on December 22.

Senior United Nations official Francesc Vendrell said there were "reasons for concern" over the security situation in Afghanistan.

"There are hundreds of thousands of people with weapons," said Vendrell, deputy to the UN special envoy to Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi.

"There are various armed groups who do not respond yet to central command. There are forces from various commanders facing each other in places such as the north."

He said the situation in the south of the country was still "unclear" and it could take up to 30,000 international troops to secure the main towns and cities and the potholed tracks that pass as highways in the war-battered country.

The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is limited to 4,500 troops and restricted to the Kabul area to protect the new interim government during its six-month lifespan.

In Kabul, where a night-time curfew is still in place, shots and explosions are often heard after dark. Residents reported three people murdered on Wednesday alone.

Last week "an incendiary device" exploded against one of the walls surrounding the tightly guarded United States embassy in Kabul, spokesman John Kincannon said, adding that no damage was caused.

The owner of a jewellery store in the city centre told AFP he did not feel safe at night as armed men allied to one or other of the many military commanders who fought against the Taliban are wont to take over the streets after dark.

"We cannot sleep well during the night, fearing someone may enter the house," said the jeweller, who would not be named.

"The only good thing about the Taliban militia was that they provided us with security," he said.

Madena (eds: one name), an Afghan woman buying gold earrings in the jewellery store, said her brothers and cousins had taken to standing guard at their house at night, something they never did during the rigid rule of the Taliban, which held public executions and amputations to deter crime.

She blamed the insecurity on the presence of armed men working as private soldiers for the military commanders, the poor state of the economy and lack of punishment for culprits.

Diplomatic sources in Kabul said there was a definite increase in instability in Kabul.

"This is clear," said one diplomat, who added that there are around 700,000 armed people in Afghanistan. "They have the culture of the Kalashnikov. They don't want to lay down their arms."

Some parts of the capital have become no-go zones while residents everywhere were careful to lock their doors at night.

"People don't feel safe, so they welcome the presence of ISAF," the diplomat said.

Kabul police chief Abdul Basir Khan Salangi denied there was insecurity in the city, saying those claiming the opposite were "enemies and those who want to defame the government."

He said the Afghan police force was in total control of the situation.

Salangi acknowledged, however that he was only "about 80 percent" satisfied with security in the capital and that his force had only 10 to 12 patrol vehicles, when it needed about 250.

Security concerns in other parts of the country were heightened this week when Syed Noorullah, deputy to ethnic Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostam, told AFP fighting had erupted in recent days around Qala-e-Zal, 60 kilometres (37 miles) northwest of Kunduz.

An intelligence service source told AFP Thursday two rival tribal leaders in the southeastern city of Khost were engaged in a power struggle which threatened to erupt into open fighting.

Afghan reconstruction minister Amin Farhang has said the administration would "pay any price" to maintain security in the country. Reconstruction would be impossible without security, he added.

Copyright © 2002 AFP. All rights reserved.

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