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Best Of RFE/RL: Easy Availability Of Guns In Afghanistan Blamed For Senseless Killings

The easily availability of weapons in Afghanistan has led to numerous murders committed in the heat of the moment. Correspondent Ahmad Hanayesh of RFE/RL's Afghan Service visited the eastern city of Parwan to speak with the perpetrators and victims of these crimes, and to find out if anything can be done to rid the country of so many guns. (This story was the winner of RFE/RL's Division of Broadcasting Innovation & Excellence Award for reporting on social issues, and was originally broadcast on 18 May.)

Parwan, Afghanistan; 25 June 2004 (RFE/RL) --

A woman: "I heard a shot. I asked what had happened. He said my son had gone crazy."

An old man: "I took the gun in my hand. By God, it made a sound. My boy is gone. Everything is gone."

The easy availability of weapons is a serious threat in Afghanistan and is contributing to murders committed in the heat of the moment. Currently, there are a number of prisoners in the jail in the eastern Afghan city of Parwan who have committed such killings.

"My name is Maqool. My father's murder happened. I've been saying I was not thinking right, [but] the murder happened. He was my father. If there hadn't been an AK-47 or any other weapon around, this murder would not have happened. The problem is the availability of weapons. All murders and crimes are happening because of these weapons."

Maqool's mother also blames the existence of the gun in their home. "I heard a shot. I asked what had happened. He was quiet. He couldn't talk. The other one told me my son had gone crazy," she said. "By the time I got there, it was too late. If there were no guns, I wouldn't have lost my husband. He was old and I'm old.... What happened? Why did I lose my husband? Now I'm left with two kids and homeless. It all happened because of this weapon."

Another young man has been sentenced to death for the murder of his cousin and uncle. "My name is Zarif Khan. I took the AK-47 and left. He shot his gun. When he shot the gun, I defended myself and shot back. The ones murdered were my cousin and uncle. The problem is the gun. If there were no guns, nobody would've been murdered. If I had hit them with a wooden stick, maybe I would have only broken an arm or a leg."

In Parwan, a 95-year-old man said he shot and killed his son. He talks slowly. He believes his life has been ruined because of the loss of his son. "My son is gone. He came and attacked me. He spoke harsh words. The gun was in this corner of the room. I took the gun in my hand. It made a sound from nowhere. I didn't do it intentionally. Now my son is gone. Now I just pass the days and nights because of the death of my son," he said. "What happened to me?"

Exactly how many guns are there among Afghan families? What percentage has been collected?
One Afghan expert believes that collecting all the stray arms from Afghanistan is next to impossible.

General Azimi is a spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry. "The crisis in the past few years has caused a whole lot of weapons to enter Afghanistan," he said. "There are no accurate statistics, but we do know there are hundreds of thousands of guns all around Afghanistan. We have a specific program called DDR [Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration]. We have already gathered more than 1,000 weapons from Konduz, more than 2,000 from Kabul, and almost 700 from Gardez. And we plan to collect more than 2,000 from Mazar-e Sharif by January."

But Afghan expert Abdul Aleem Shafeeq believes that collecting all the stray arms from Afghanistan is next to impossible. "Under the current conditions, the main dilemma in Afghanistan is the existence of arms," he said. "The harshness that has found its way among Afghan families is one of the biggest disasters of the past 23 years. The existence of arms and the clashes have caused Afghans to become violent and emotional, tempting them to use arms. The fact that families and individuals have access to arms has already caused a lot of problems. The government has started some efforts in collecting arms with the help of some foreign organizations, but I believe these programs are not enough. For different reasons, they have not been very effective."

Referring to the Bonn agreement, the Afghan government has insisted on the disarmament of the residents of the capital, Kabul. But it's still common for young men living in regions like Parwan and Kapisa to walk carrying their guns.