Afghan city on strike over crime
by Mohammad Reza
Tue Mar 11, 9:24 AM ET
HERAT, Afghanistan (AFP) – Scores of shopkeepers shut their businesses in Afghanistan’s western city of Herat Tuesday to join hundreds of health and factory workers in a strike to demand better protection from crime.
A team appointed by President Hamid Karzai meanwhile arrived in the busy commercial centre near the border with Iran to investigate criminal incidents, including kidnappings for ransom and murder, that have aroused public anger.
Most shops, except those selling food, were closed in the city centre with a local traders’ union calling in a statement for them to also remain shut on Wednesday, residents said.
Bahram Sarway, who owns a car spare-parts dealership, said he did not open for business after receiving the statement, which said all shops should close for two days “in protest of the government’s weak actions against insecurity.”
“The government has failed to provide security for the people of Herat. We cannot remain silent,” Sarway’s copy of the statement said.
On Monday, around 250 small factories at the city’s main industrial park downed tools.
More than 2,000 health workers — including doctors, nurses and pharmacy owners — were also on strike, said Mohammad Hassan Farid, spokesman for the city’s doctors’ union.
Most stopped working on Saturday, except in cases of emergency.
Interior Minister Zarar Ahmad Moqbel meanwhile arrived in the city at the head of a team appointed by Karzai to investigate the concerns.
“This delegation has been tasked to conduct a broad-based investigation into the recent criminal incidents which have raised public concerns in Herat,” Karzai’s office said in a statement.
The city of about three million people has been relatively free from unrest linked to an insurgency by the extremist Taliban movement removed from government in a US-led invasion in late 2001.
But locals report a spike in crime, which has also worsened in the capital Kabul.
Herat police said they killed Tuesday criminal kingpin Hafiz Blandab, who was involved in a series incidents including the kidnapping and killing of a doctor’s son — one of the events which reportedly led to the strike.
Blandab, a one-time fighter in the resistance to the Soviet occupation of the 1980s, was killed with two men in a shootout in Ghoryan district on the border with Iran, said regional police spokesman Abdul Rauf Ahmadi.
Fifteen other men were arrested, he said. “After the killing of Hafiz, we can assure the people that the security will improve because Hafiz was the one behind most crimes,” he said.
Ahmadi said there had been 40 abductions in the city last year and 20 murders but crime had dropped dramatically this year.
Among those kidnapped in 2007 was a 42-year-old German carpenter who had married an Afghan woman.
Police said at the time of the abduction in December they believed he was kidnapped by his wife’s family. They have not announced his release.
Ahmadi said the lawlessness in the province had been in part due to the lack of police and corruption within the force. More than 100 policemen were fired last year for corruption, he said.
Afghanistan has help from its international allies to build up its police force, which was in tatters by the time the Taliban were forced from power.
But the force is said to be among the most corrupt of the fragile country’s institutions, with some policemen said to be involved in drug running and abductions.