Kabul: law-and-order breakdown

Law and order is fast deteriorating in the Afghan capital city of Kabul, with Soviet soldiers, resistance fighters, and "party thugs" joining common criminals in a wave of armed break-ins throughout the city, according to diplomatic reports reaching New Delhi.

The break-ins frequently end in exchanges of gunfire and deaths, diplomats related, since many Kabul householders keep their own arms to protect their homes and families.

"There are noticeably more funerals at the mosques in town," commented one envoy. "Although curfew doesn't start until 10 p.m., very few Afghans are on the streets after 7 p.m. because in virtually every area of town break-ins after dark have become commonplace."

The reported upsurge in armed robberies comes on top of the ongoing round of assassinations of government officials and ruling party members -- ascribed to both rebel attacks and intraparty feuding -- that have become a backdrop to life in the beleaguered capital city.

Together with ballooning reports of a breakdown in discipline among Soviet occupation forces, they amount to both a serious operating problem and a public relations setback for the Karmal government and its Soviet backers.

Foreign ministers of the world's 95 nonaligned countries have Afghanistan on their agenda at a meeting in New Delhi this week (Feb. 9 to 12), and the Soviets and Afghans are trying hard to project an image of normalcy returning to the country. Their aims are to avoid further international demands for Soviet troop withdrawal and to advance their claim that Karmal's is the legitimate and autonomous government in charge.

But the fresh diplomatic reports, arriving just a month after a rebellion by Kabul policemen protesting extensions of their tours of duty, call into question Karmal's claim to control even his own capital.

In some areas of the city, according to one account reaching here, resistance fighters have formed their own night patrol units, which offer shopkeepers protection for a price. The same account said that Soviet soldiers on night patrol duty have been looting houses, shops, and buses.

Another diplomatic report blamed the "wide and indiscriminate" issue of submachine guns and automatic rifles to government partisans as a major factor in the capital's law-and-order breakdown.

Envoys said that the law-and-order picture is equally shaky in the provinces, with even more cases of extortion laid to resistance fighters.The insurgents "send demand notes to householders and business and set fire to premises if they get no response," a diplomat related.

A particularly bold armed robbery that set Kabul buzzing occurred at the United Nations club late in January, when five men armed with pistols and machine guns strode in and herded five guests and several Afghan staff members into a side room.

They then loaded radios, a television set, a film projector, other electrical appliances, and cash from the club's till into three taxis waiting outside, and calmly drove away.

One account of the incident identified the robbers only as Afghans dressed in Western-style clothin g, another said they were "probably" resistance fighters.

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