Kabul po­lice tackle car theft - by de­flat­ing tyres

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

KABUL: Po­lice pa­trol the Afghan cap­i­tal on a warm Sun­day, but not to hunt ex­trem­ists. In­stead, they are de­flat­ing the tyres of parked cars-a theft preven­tion tac­tic that is rais­ing eye­brows as the coun­try strug­gles to con­tain the grow­ing men­ace of petty crime. Kabul and its es­ti­mated five mil­lion in­hab­i­tants are at war, a prime tar­get for Tale­ban-led in­sur­gent at­tacks as well as as­saults by a nascent Is­lamic State.

The cap­i­tal’s fledg­ling po­lice force are un­der pres­sure to pre­vent atroc­i­ties, soshort on time and re­sources-they have taken a scorched earth ap­proach when it comes to tack­ling more rou­tine petty crime. The logic is in­dis­putable: If the car can­not be moved, it can­not be stolen. “Po­lice po­litely ask the res­i­dents to not park their cars in the open... but when they pre­fer to pay no heed, then po­lice may move in to re­move the air noz­zles as a last mea­sure,” says Feraidoon Obaidi, chief of Kabul po­lice’s crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion de­part­ment.

“We can pro­tect peo­ple from both the thieves and the ter­ror­ists,” he says. “But they should know how much energy we have to put in to stop ter­ror­ists in the city. By leav­ing their cars in the open, they are invit­ing thieves.” A se­ries of at­tacks have ripped across Kabul in re­cent months, ji­hadists armed with bombs and guns killing dozens of peo­ple, in­clud­ing the as­sault tar­get­ing Shi­ites dur­ing the Ashura fes­ti­val ear­lier in Oc­to­ber that left 14 peo­ple dead.

Most have been car­ried out by the resur­gent Tale­ban, in­clud­ing at­tacks on a global char­ity and a university as well as twin blasts in Septem­ber that killed 41 peo­ple. The Ashura at­tack was claimed by Is­lamic State. In July, the Mid­dle East ji­hadist group, which is strug­gling to gain a foothold in Afghanistan, claimed bomb­ings that tore through mi­nor­ity Shi­ite Hazara pro­test­ers in Kabul, killing 84 peo­ple in the dead­li­est at­tack in the cap­i­tal since 2001.

‘It works’

Of­fi­cial data shows up to 300 cars were stolen in Kabul’s streets from March to July-slightly down from last year, but still frus­trat­ing for po­lice. “In some cases they work in gangs, while oth­ers work in­di­vid­u­ally snatch­ing cars, es­pe­cially (the ones) that can eas­ily be un­locked,” says Kabir Ah­mad Bar­mak, chief of Kabul’s eleventh district po­lice. “They snatch cars parked in va­cant streets es­pe­cially at night, and some­times turn them into spare parts,” Bar­mak says, ad­ding po­lice have been forced to use valu­able re­sources on spe­cial mo­bile pa­trols to tackle the prob­lem.

Of­fi­cers used to sim­ply slash the tyres, but now take the slightly more con­sid­er­ate route of re­mov­ing the air noz­zles in­stead. “When you see these thieves lurk­ing in dark and peo­ple reck­lessly leav­ing their cars in the open, it makes you think, best way to pro­tect is to dam­age the tyres,” says an­other of­fi­cer in the district, who re­quested anonymity. “It is work­ing,” he adds with a tri­umphant smile. “Fewer peo­ple to­day leave their cars on streets than be­fore.”

But the tac­tic is an­ger­ing a pub­lic frus­trated with the in­con­ve­nience and fi­nan­cial bur­den of re­peated re­pairs. “Should one ex­pect the po­lice to serve or to hurt?” says Ak­bar, a cus­tomer at a tyre re­pair­ing unit on the road­side out­side cen­tral Kabul’s “Bush Bazaar”, a black mar­ket named af­ter US Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush. “It is not fair to punc­ture a car to avert theft... You park your car here for few min­utes, it is ei­ther stolen by a thief, or dam­aged by po­lice,” he says. “That is van­dal­ism, not ser­vice.”

Oth­ers pointed out they had lit­tle op­tion but to leave their cars in the open. “When you go to the city, there are not many places to park your car ex­cept the streets, and then it is gone with­out much hope for its re­cov­ery,” says Ah­mad Shoaib, whose car was stolen last month. But there is one merry, busy seg­ment of the cap­i­tal that ap­pears to ap­pre­ci­ate the sit­u­a­tion. “Po­lice are do­ing a ser­vice,” says handy­man Ab­dul Shukoor at the road­side mo­bile tire re­pair­ing unit, sip­ping from his steam­ing tea with a smile. “They pre­vent the cars from be­ing stolen and help me make more money. The world is fair.”— AFP

KABUL: Afghan po­lice of­fi­cials stand be­side a ve­hi­cle whose tyres they are de­flat­ing on a street at Khair Khana in Kabul. — AFP

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