UN fears instability in Kabul after Mayor demolishes 'illegal' homes

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Kabul has always been the exception, a haven amid an unstable country where American troops are still tracking down anti-government guerrillas at huge expense, where swaths of the landscape are no-go areas because of the threat of violence. But now trouble has come unexpectedly to the Afghan capital.

To the disgust of the United Nations, Basir Salangi, the Kabul police chief, has begun flexing his muscles, underlining tensions between the US-backed Afghan authorities and the international community.

His target comprises one-room mud-brick homes that he says were built in violation of the law and the city plans - a fragile concept in a country blighted by war, corruption, a collapsed infrastructure, dismal or non-existent services and a massive opium trade. Thirteen families have so far been evicted by police from homes in one of the city's richest areas, the Wazir Akhar Khan neighbourhood, where monthly rents run into four figures in US dollars. The families say they have lived there for three decades. This did not deter Mr Salangi. He has declared that the homes are not part of the "master-plan of the municipality". This may surprise many of its residents, who negotiate the pot-holed streets and face routine power cuts.

But the police chief underscored his point by sending in the bulldozers, which apparently flattened the houses while the families' possessions were still inside. He now has plans to throw out another 250 families - more than 1,000 people. He says they have been offered compensation, which they refused; they deny this.

The UN is livid. Its spokesman, Manoel de Almeida e Silva, has accused him at a press conference of "excessive force" and of causing a "humanitarian emergency".

By the standards of Afghanistan, this is small fry. Yet this is not without significance, not least because it fuels opposition to the government, and to the international and American forces that are supporting it, in the interim President Hamid Karzai's patchy power base.

Such opposition has proved persistent. The Americans and their allieshave launched manyoperations to crush it, but so far without definitive success. An offensive in the Dai Chupan district of the southern province of Zabul has been under way for nine days. This has brought some of the heaviest fighting since the Taliban were ousted in late 2001. There were reports yesterday of two dozen Pakistani military helicopters, thought to be carrying American special forces, in an area where some accounts have suggested Osama bin Laden may be hiding.

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