Rise in crime, kidnapping, top Afghans' worries
Western forces target the Taliban, but for many Afghans the biggest threat comes from criminals and complicitous police.
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Mr. Lal's son has already been kidnapped once – returned after 13 days for a $20,000 ransom. But Lal still gets death threats by phone, and a few days ago, thieves tried to break into his house. Only a few randomly fired shots from the AK-47 stopped them.
For the Afghans whose hearts and minds America and its allies are trying to win, the greatest enemy in many cases is not the Taliban, but criminals and the police who are often seen as being complicitous with them.
Even in areas where the government holds sway, law and order is rapidly deteriorating, stoking the frustrations that feed Afghanistan's insurgency.
"Our perception of security priorities is different from that of the vast majority of Afghans," says Andrew Wilder, author of "Cops or Robbers?" a 2007 report on police reform for the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, an independent think tank in Kabul.
The steady decline in law and order – particularly murders and kidnappings – has accelerated this year. In the prosperous western trading hub of Herat, rising crime has led investors to pull out of the area. Some 150 of the province's 250 factories have closed, according to the Union of Herat, a traders association. The province's parliamentary delegation has threatened to resign if the government does address the situation.
In Kabul, a Christian aid worker and two businessmen have been shot in recent weeks. Kidnappings have also become commonplace, with a prominent banker, a relative of the former king, and two foreign workers – including a Canadian journalist – abducted over the past few months. The journalist, Mellissa Fung, was freed after four weeks. But many businessmen are fleeing.
Hafizullah Sherzay might soon be among them. The construction-company owner has lived through the worst of Afghanistan's recent history. Neither a civil war nor the Taliban's austere regime compelled him to leave.
Yet after seeing many friends and colleagues kidnapped in recent months, he says he is seriously considering moving to Dubai. "If this security situation persists, it will be impossible to stay," he says.
Earlier this year, criminals abducted the nephew of Mr. Sherzay's business partner. The family paid a $400,000 ransom and left the country.