IRIN New, September 25, 2007
Increasing armed robberies, abductions in Herat Province
Thousands of Afghans have swarmed into Herat Province since April after at least 200,000 Afghans have been deported to Afghanistan from neighbouring Iran
HERAT - Increasing armed robberies and abductions are causing widespread concern in Herat, a relatively peaceful province in western Afghanistan.
In one of the most recent cases, over 600 workers at a flourmill in Herat Province lost their jobs when the company was shut down after its owner was abducted by armed men in September.
The closure of Aria Flour Company, which supplied about 400 bakeries in Herat city, has resulted in rising flour prices and affected the work of hundreds of bread shops, local residents said.
Afghanistan has slipped backward into a political "danger zone," the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies warned in March. In the broadest published evaluation of Afghans' attitudes, the center said Afghans are facing worsened physical security, greater threats from warlords, criminal gangs and corrupt officials, and more difficulty in supporting their families.
Newsday.com, September 9, 2007
Over 12 cases of armed robbery, kidnapping, extortion and attacks on financial centres have been reported in Herat city in September alone - a 50 percent increase on the same period in 2006, provincial security officials said.
One of the country's main commercial centres, Herat's share of Afghanistan's national income has already seen a marked reduction in the last four months. "In the first four months of 2007 we saw a reduction of about US$14 million in Herat's overall income compared to 2006," said Ziaullah Sakha, head of the customs department in Herat.
Thousands of Afghans have swarmed into Herat Province since April after at least 200,000 Afghans have been deported to Afghanistan from neighbouring Iran, according to the Afghan government.
Iran's deputy interior minister, Mohammad-Baqer Zolqadr, told the Iranian IRNA news agency on 12 May that about 85,000 Afghans had been deported to Afghanistan in three weeks alone since 21 April.
Most deportees are single men who, in view of their plight, are considered susceptible to crime, according to the Herat branch of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), the country's rights watchdog.
Herat Governor Alhaj Sayed Hussain Anwari, however, classified wrongdoers in his province into three main categories.
"First, there are armed thieves who are widely involved in security incidents. There are also Taliban elements, who try to destabilise the whole situation. Some people with political motivations also contribute to the festering security situation," Anwari told IRIN.
Daulat Bibi, 40, told IWPR that she was raped by 13 men working for a local commander.
"I was hospitalised for one and a half months," she said. "I went to the district governor's office, but no one listened to me. Those who raped me walk free, and the government did not even bother to arrest them. I went everywhere, but people told me, ‘There is no law that can do anything against these commanders. Just forget it."
Institute for War & Peace Reporting, Sep.13, 2007
Officials in Herat Province acknowledge that criminal gangs and their influential kingpins easily escape legal action as a result of endemic corruption and their ability to exploit kinship ties in provincial bodies.
Limited police force
There are only 2,700 police for over two million people in Herat Province, Afghanistan's second most populated province after Kabul, according to the provincial authorities.
Devastated by decades of armed conflict and chaos, Afghanistan is yet to build up its security infrastructure, including a national police force of 80,000.
Governor Anwari complained about lack of police resources and professionalism, saying they contributed to deteriorating security. "The police are not professional," he said.
In a press release issued on 20 September the Afghanistan Investment Support Agency expressed concern about the impunity of those accused of the abduction of businessmen, and armed robberies.
Noor Khan Niekzad, a senior police officer, said: "We are doing our best to arrest criminals and ensure an atmosphere of peace for the citizens of Herat".
"Insecurity plunges people deep into poverty and vulnerability," said Gulam Nabi Hakak, head of the AIHRC in Herat Province. "People could again migrate to Iran and Pakistan if security does not improve."
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