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Nerves Are Shaky Over Afghan Safety

August 3, 2002

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) _ The assembled police chiefs of Afghanistan heard it straight from the justice minister: ``This is a very dangerous time.″

Gulam Hazrat’s mother could have told them the same. ``She won’t let me work after 7 p.m.,″ the taxi driver said. ``Or go to remote areas.″

In Kabul, international military patrols help keep the troublemakers in check. But beyond the capital at night, roads in all directions lead to no-go zones. Highway robbers are busy. Warlord factions are clashing in outlying provinces.

Eight months after the ouster of the Taliban _ the stern Islamists who brought safety, if little else, to the countryside _ security remains shaky in the new Afghanistan. And without security, Justice Minister Abdulrahim Karimi said, ``Afghanistan has no pride or dignity.″

The transitional government of President Hamid Karzai brought together the police chiefs of all 32 Afghan provinces last week for five days of meetings and lectures on enforcing the law in the post-Taliban era.

They were briefed by top Afghan officials and informed that Afghanistan would be joining Interpol, the French-based International Police Organization, whose intelligence exchange may now benefit from Afghan data in the anti-terrorist campaign.

They also learned the latest about the ambitious German plan for training the Afghan national police. On Aug. 15, the national police academy, rebuilt by the Germans, will begin extensive training of its first classes, totaling 1,470 members. Germany also has donated 48 patrol cars to Kabul, and sent boxes of fingerprint kits and other police equipment to units across Afghanistan.

But at the same time, in a sign of national concern, President Karzai dispatched special ``delegations,″ led by close advisers, out on Afghanistan’s crumbling roads to distant points to test their security and ``see the difficulties faced by the people and by businessmen,″ government television reported.

It listed the dangerous stretches they would visit: Kandahar to Herat, Kabul to Mazar-e-Sharif, Kandahar to Spinboldak, among others. ``Ensuring security is one of government’s important duties,″ the TV report said.

Down at Kabul’s Jalalabad bus station, bus driver Azizullah scoffed at the idea.

``So these delegations will go in their Mercedes and their four-wheel-drive Land Cruisers″ _ a vehicle favored by Afghanistan’s feared warlords _ ``and of course everything will be OK. The thieves will be afraid to show themselves.″

Sixteen-passenger Toyota minibuses, 30-seat Mercedes buses and low-slung, rugged Toyota taxis crowded into the dusty, fume-choked Kabul terminal. At night, that’s where they stay.

``At night, nobody’s traveling outside the city,″ said Gulam Hazrat, who said his mother dictated working hours to him because she wanted to protect the family’s lone breadwinner.

Azizullah said some bus drivers were willing to take the chance _ drive at night the 80 miles east to Jalalabad, for example _ ``but unfortunately the passengers don’t want to go. They’re afraid.″

They have reason. Just two weeks ago, Azizullah himself reported, three men with a rocket-propelled grenade and automatic rifles intercepted a bus in a bottleneck gorge on the Jalalabad road and robbed all its passengers. The authorities have since put a security post there.

The long, lonely highway from Kandahar to Herat, in the southwestern semi-desert, is one of the most feared stretches of Afghan road, prey to bands of gunmen. At the end of that road, Herat province itself has been torn by running gun battles between ethnic factions.

During a lull in that fighting last week, one armed group appealed for a unit of Kabul’s 5,000-member International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to be stationed in Herat, to help keep the peace. ``We want ISAF here,″ Ali Khan, a spokesman for the group, told The Associated Press by telephone.

It echoed what many Afghan officials have said, that the international force should be expanded to the provinces until an Afghan army and police force can be organized and trained. But Western governments, led by the United States, have thus far rejected the idea.

Said European Union envoy Javier Solana, on a visit last week, ``I don’t think honestly at this point this country has a problem of security.″

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