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Afghanistan: Karzai Fires Kabul Police Chief Amid Land-Grab Scandal

Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai has ordered the dismissal of Kabul's police chief amid a real-estate scandal that has implicated many senior officials in the Afghan government. But some Afghan officials say the sacking of General Abdul Basir Salangi is unrelated to the land-grab controversy.

Prague, 18 September 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Kabul's powerful police chief General Abdul Basir Salangi has been fired amid a growing land-grab scandal that involves many senior officials in the UN-backed Afghan Transitional Administration.

Afghan state television reported that Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai yesterday signed the order for Salangi to be replaced by General Abdul Wahid Baba Jan. Reports say the recommendation for Baba Jan to replace Salangi was made by the Interior Ministry.

The firing comes just two weeks after Salangi ordered the demolition of the homes of about 30 impoverished families in a Kabul neighborhood so that luxury homes could be built for government officials.

People evicted from the Shayr Pur neighborhood of Kabul also say they were beaten by Salangi's officers when they refused to leave the modest mud-brick houses they'd been living in for more than two decades.

In an interview with RFE/RL today, Salangi confirmed the report that he was sacked. "I was not aware of the issue [of my removal] until I was officially informed just one hour before [yesterday's] news broadcast on Afghan state television," he said. "This is my regret -- that they didn't consult me in advance about this decision."

Salangi also told RFE/RL that in some respects, he feels relieved about being removed from the post of the Kabul police chief. "This was a big responsibility on my shoulders -- to take care of the security of the people of Kabul forever. But now this burden has been lifted," he said.

While the timing of Salangi's removal suggested it is linked to the Shayr Pur land-grab scandal, some Afghan officials say privately it is part of a wider effort by Karzai to push through reforms in the security sector.

There recently has been a significant rise of crime in the Afghan capital -- including theft, kidnappings, and killings -- despite the presence of about 5,000 foreign troops who form the NATO-led and UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

But aides to Karzai also say the Afghan leader was infuriated last week when he learned that many of the ministers in his cabinet, as well as hundreds of other lower-ranking officials, received valuable plots of land in Shayr Pur for a nominal fee.

A commission appointed by Karzai this week to investigate the scandal reportedly is now investigating allegations that some of the officials who received land valued between $70,000 and $170,000 earned a large and speedy profit by immediately reselling the property.

Miloon Kothari, the UN's special rapporteur on housing rights, accused Salangi of being a "human rights violator" last week and urged Karzai to dismiss him.

Kothari also accused Salangi's political allies -- including Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim, Education Minister Yunus Qanuni, and top military commanders -- of forcing impoverished Afghan families off the land in order to confiscate the property for their own personal use. "Fahim, the minister of defense, is directly involved in this kind of occupation and dispossession. And ministers that are directly involved have to be removed," he said.

Fahim has not commented publicly on the accusations or calls for his removal. But Qanuni and others who have been implicated have said that they obtained the property legally.

Observers in Kabul say there is no immediate sign the scandal would lead to resignations or dismissals of senior officials from Fahim and Qanuni's faction within the Afghan Transitional Administration.

Like Fahim, Qanuni and many of others named in the case, Salangi is a member of Jamiat-e Islami-yi -- the political wing of a mostly ethnic Tajik faction of the former Northern Alliance that seized de facto control of Kabul after the Taliban regime fled the city at the end of 2001.

Salangi's replacement, Baba Jan, was a communist military official during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. He also helped the Mujahedin to topple the last communist regime in Afghanistan in 1992.