Barricades, foreign troop behaviour raise hackles in Kabul

March 16th, 2009 - 10:13 am ICT by IANS  

By Can Merey and Kristina Dunz
Kabul, March 16 (DPA) Roads were cordoned off in Kabul last week for the heavily armed convoy of visiting German Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung. To spend as little time as possible on the dangerous streets, the 18 armoured jeeps negotiated them at high speed, leaving behind thick clouds of dust.

The speed was necessary because if the convoy moved too slowly, it could be attacked.

The clearing of the streets for Jung’s convoy highlights a trend in Kabul: Ordinary Afghans can no longer move freely about in their own capital. Kabul has been transformed into a fortress.

Blast walls have grown higher and higher and have encroached further into Kabul’s streets as the number of checkpoints has increased dramatically.

Because of security concerns, many roads have been permanently closed to most traffic, causing traffic jams on other streets and adding to the growing annoyance of the population.

More than two years ago, the government, pressured by the National Assembly, ordered a dismantling of the barriers, which primarily protect ministries, military installations and foreign embassies.

But instead, more have been added, including around the National Assembly building itself, which is now protected by a metre-high blast wall.

Recently, the road in front of the German embassy was closed after a suicide attack in January that killed five people. The bombing happened after embassy personnel had been ordered last year to move their households onto the legation’s compound - into a new, secure building.

Several other embassies have implemented similar measures and are no longer allowing their staff to live outside their embassies’ walls.

The measures have embittered many Afghans because the countries that originally stepped in to provide security and stability are now barricading themselves behind thick walls.

People are also outraged about the behaviour of foreign troops in the capital.

An incident that happened near the headquarters of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) illustrated the reason for the discontent.

A taxi had stopped at a checkpoint there while armoured vehicles manned by US troops approached from behind but didn’t slow down.

The vehicles instead scraped along the side of the taxi as they passed and tore off one of its bumpers.

A US soldier simply smiled at the Afghan security guards manning the checkpoint and showed them his ISAF pass as the convoy continued on its way.

Such behaviour is “unacceptable” and erodes the image of the foreign troops deployed in Afghanistan, ISAF spokesman Richard Blanchette said.

He produced a flyer that the ISAF had distributed to soldiers after the incident.

“We can’t win if you drive recklessly - think about it,” it said. “We do not own the road.”

But such incidents like the one at the checkpoint continue to erode the popularity of the foreign troops.

A recent survey conducted by the BBC and German television ARD revealed that not even one in three Afghans perceived foreign troops’ achievements in a positive light.

Only three years earlier, more than two-thirds of the respondents were satisfied with the soldiers’ work.

Although not all soldiers negotiate Kabul’s streets in such a reckless manner, the happening at the checkpoint was not an isolated incident.

Taxi drivers at the airport report similar incidents with one, who only gave his name as Najibullah, saying his car had been rammed twice by ISAF vehicles.

During the most recent incident, he said, an armoured vehicle emerged from a side street and drove onto the main road, slamming into his taxi.

The damage of $200, equivalent to seven weeks of his income, had to be paid by Najibullah to the taxi operator out of his own pocket.

“The soldiers don’t even stop to apologise,” the 38-year-old said.

He rejected the idea of describing the foreign troops as guests.

“I do not know of any guests who would dare to behave in such a manner while visiting my home,” he said.

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