Afghanistan Diary
Tuesday, March 08, 2005
  Afghanistan is still dangerous

This week, two incidents reminded us that Afghanistan can still be a dangerous place.

First, an acquaintance of Penilla (one of my housemate) was involved in an incident in which her family was attacked in broad daylight in the center of town by four armed men who beat up the car and its occupants. Apparently they did so because “the mother was a whore” (whatever that means) and it seem pretty clear that it was a family dispute or some sort. The victims claim it was simply a carjacking, but their story does not hold water.

The second event happened last night. I went to the elbow room (an expat hangout) with two of my housemates and one other person. Today, we learnt that one expat who was there talking to Lyn, was shot dead at around 10pm. Nobody knows if it was a personal vendetta or a terrorist act (probably it matters little to the victim, but the implications are different to us), although there are speculations that it was a targeted killing. There are a number of well-armed guards in the immediate vicinity of the crime scene, which makes it unlikely that it was a random mugging. We’ll have to wait to see how it affects our safety guidelines.

I also feel guilty for another reason. At around eleven, all of us but Lyn wanted to go home. I took the car and drove the ladies I was with to their respective residences, leaving Lyn behind. I did not feel bad about that because she was with someone whom I know had a driver, and I figure he could give her a lift. Later she called me to ask me if I was still up and if I could pick her up (the guy’s driver was nowhere to be found). I would have done it (I was in bed though) had I known for sure how to get there, but I didn’t (I don’t know my way around Kabul well). As it turns out, Lyn and her friend walked to get a taxi exactly to the same area that the guy was shot.

It takes some efforts not to become complacent about safety issues here because we don’t feel insecure at all on a daily basis. Just because a place “feel” safe does not mean it is. Albuquerque has a crime rate about twice the US average, and there is a serious shooting incident every year or two in front of the university. Yet, I have never felt unsafe there.

It may also be that we have to come to terms with the sad fact that some insecurity is part of life. There were bombs going off and others terrorist acts when I was in Brussels (several bombs by the CCC, including one that did not go off accross the street from my house), Manchester (the IRA blew up a shopping center), Turkey (Islamic fundamentalist and/or PKK), London (the IRA blew up Canary Whorf), Northern Ireland (Real IRA's bombing in Ormagh), Israel (attacks on buses by Hamas) and the US (9/11). Basically everywhere I went to.

In terms of security, DACAAR is among the loosest organization in here. Expats live in houses protected by unarmed guards, carry a cell phone at all time and need clearance before traveling out of town. Other than that, we drive ourselves wherever we want to go. We get security recommendations but it is up to us to follow them. Many other People who work for others NGOs often have a curfew, are forbidden to go to parts of the city, only travel with a driver, and some must carry a radio (which is pointless since the cell phone reception is fine in Kabul). The worse off are UN workers who are under stricter regulations. Worse still (but these are not NGO folks) are those associated with the military (contractors and soldiers). They are usually locked down in the military base. If they do go out, they tend to do so by group, all carrying arms and visibly looking at the world around them as if there was a sniper posted on every street corner.

I need to tell of an anecdote that I got from Lyn. Lyn manages a development program. During a meeting, representatives from each region had to relate the situation on the ground. One man described the security situation in his district as fine, locals having no problem with DACAAR. That was surprisingly good news because it was a very conservative pasthoon area where more difficult relations can be expected. Later, it came up in the conversation that someone fired a rocket at the house of the DACAAR’s female worker, Somehow this unimportant detail was omitted from his presentation of the security situation.

 
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This is my diary. My name is Lev and I work in Kabul for a non-governmental organization (dacaar.org).

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Location: Kabul, Afghanistan
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