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Afghanistan: Kabul Plays Musical Chairs With Provincial Security Chiefs

5 April 2005 -- Authorities have shuffled the security commanders in four of Afghanistan's largest provinces in the past two weeks. The moves appear to be aimed at countering the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan's largest cities, and perhaps serve as a response to the demonstrations that took place in March in the southern city of Kandahar and the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 11 March 2005).

The security commander of Kandahar Province, General Khan Mohammad, became head of security in the northern Balkh Province, where Mazar-e Sharif is located. Khan Mohammad's predecessor, General Mohammad Akram Khakrezwal, became security commander of Kabul Province. The former security commander of Kabul, General Baba Jan, moved to the western Herat Province. General Mohammad Ayyub Salangi, formerly the security commander of Wardak Province, departed for the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar.

Salangi told the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press on 27 March that people "who do have permission to carry weapons should not enter Kandahar city," adding that unauthorized armed individuals will be "expelled" from the city. He also announced a new regulation requiring vehicles to be properly registered with the traffic police. Owners who do not register their vehicles in the allotted time will be "dealt with severely." Salangi pledged to curb the recent rise in kidnappings in Kandahar. The increasing number of abductions had sparked the demonstrations in that city last month.
The Interior Ministry represents the single largest recipient of funds in the recently approved budget, with 24 percent of all planned expenditures.

Khakrezwal -- now assigned to the capital -- reportedly had strained relations with Balkh Province Governor Ata Mohammad Nur and resisted the governor's previous efforts to remove him. It is unclear whether his appointment to Kabul was linked to Nur's efforts or was part of a castling process. Khakrezwal has vowed that his first step in Kabul will be to organize a professional and properly trained police force.

Western Afghanistan

The Herat daily "Etefaq-e Islam" on 27 March hailed the appointment of Baba Jan in that city, citing his experience in security issues. However, the Kabul weekly "Rozgaran" lamented on 23 March that with crime rates rising "every day," Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali opted to confront the crisis simply by transferring certain "security commanders from one province to another."

Pointing to Baba Jan and Khakrezwal, "Rozgaran" asked why the two commanders should be moved to other provinces "if they could not ensure" security in Kabul and Balkh. Quoting an Afghan proverb, "Rozgaran" concluded that rubbing "salt into a wound will not reduce the pain."

A Budget Priority

The Interior Ministry, which is primarily responsible for maintaining domestic security, represents the single largest recipient of funds in the recently approved budget for the Afghan year 1384 (21 March 2005-20 March 2006), with 24 percent of all planned expenditures. The Defense Ministry, by comparison, is slated to receive 19 percent of all state spending. While those numbers are somewhat misleading -- as foreign assistance and the presence of coalition forces also contribute to domestic security and defense -- it is clear that domestic security is the top priority in the Afghan budget.

Given the importance of maintaining and bolstering security in the country, it seems logical that the best and the brightest of Afghanistan should be appointed to direct the security apparatus. As at least one commentary has suggested, Afghanistan is a country struggling to emerge from the shadow of terrorism; it might therefore require a complete overhaul of the security administration in order to prevent Afghanistan from falling into the hands of criminals.

"The Guardian" noted on 31 March that "ordinary Afghans" are "alarmed by a swelling crime wave" in which the "line between cops and robbers is becoming increasingly blurred."

Playing musical chairs with security commanders might provide a short-term fix, but it is unlikely to be a long-term solution to the declining security situation in Afghanistan.