Return to lawlessness

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The second batch of 30 Al-Qa’eda fighters, mostly Arabs, left the US detention camp at Kandahar Airport in Afghanistan for a high security facility at Guantanamo Bay in eastern Cuba, this week. Meanwhile, US war planes continued to bomb suspected hideouts of Taliban and Al-Qa’eda fighters.

The first batch, consisting of 20 Al-Qa’eda members, departed for Cuba earlier this week from Kandahar Airport, where US authorities have rounded up, so far, about 400 Taliban and Al- Qa’eda fighters from throughout Afghanistan. Unprecedented security measures have been taken to ferry these prisoners from Afghanistan to Cuba because, the US authorities claim, these captives have been trained to create safety problems or even potentially trigger suicide attacks on board.

Shackled, wearing white masks which covered their faces, in green clothes and orange slippers, the prisoners were escorted by US troops to the C-17 transport plane. Each prisoner was flanked by two US soldiers on board the flight to Cuba.

“They have no rights as prisoners of war,” US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told a press briefing this week, as the prisoners landed in Cuba following their 20-hour flight.

The US forces are continuing their relentless chase of Al-Qa’eda and Taliban fighters who are still holding on to pockets of resistance in some parts of Afghanistan. The US has resumed, since 3 January, the bombing of the Zhawar base in the Khost province, close to the Pakistani border town of Miran Shah.

The Zhawar base was originally a training camp run by Al-Qa’eda before 11 September, and was vacated by the time the US bombing started on 7 October. The bombing has been resumed after the US forces received intelligence reports that Al- Qa’eda and Taliban fighters were returning to this base camp.

On the eastern side of the Afghan border the deployment of Pakistani troops continued, even as India amassed its military might along Pakistan’s western border. Pakistan is continuing to deploy troops in order to prevent fleeing Al-Qa’eda and Taliban fighters from infiltrating Pakistan.

Pakistan has already handed over to the US authorities dozens of arrested Al-Qa’eda fighters, and they are currently being interrogated in a bid to unearth the complete network of Al-Qa’eda cells, said to be situated in up to 60 countries worldwide.

Crime rate in Afghanistan’s cities and towns has climbed rapidly with the Taliban administration’s fall. The new government, despite its efforts, has so far failed to reverse the rising tide in all kinds of crime — from murder, banditry and car-jacking to kidnapping for ransom, robberies, drug smuggling and rape. The law and order situation has so deteriorated that in Jalalabad all foreign journalists have left due to the increasing threat to their life and property.

Only last week, the CNN staff in Jalalabad were not “allowed” to leave by the heavily armed “fixers” who wanted extra “tips” from the American journalists. The CNN staff had to pay a considerable sum in dollars to secure their exit from Jalalabad to the Pakistani city of Peshawar. The US marines, earlier posted in the same area, had already left as the law and order situation deteriorated further. In the absence of US troops, and in view of the CNN staff’s misadventures, which went unreported in the press, all foreign journalists who had gathered in Jalalabad to report on the bombing of the Tora Bora complex, fled the city.

In other Afghan cities, such as Kabul, Kandahar and Mazar-i-Sharif, the situation is just as bad. Although the new interim administration declared Kabul a weapon-free city last week, peace and security are unlikely to return to the citizens soon. The chaotic aftermath of Taliban rule, coupled with more than two-decades of war, have brought insecurity to the people of this unfortunate country.

At present, gun-toting soldiers of irregular militias, personal security guards employed by various individuals and groups, Northern Alliance troops and common citizens move around with their weapons. Although the government of Hamid Karzai has launched a campaign to recover weapons from the people, most of them are unwilling to abandon them in the absence of a reliable police force to protect them against crime.

Ironically the increasing proliferation of arms across all sections of society is the main reason for the spike in crime, with fewer people using these weapons for protection but, rather, have less fear of committing crime. No wonder then that cases of banditry, car- jacking and shooting are on the rise in Kabul and elsewhere. All things considered, disarming Afghanistan’s 25 million populace appears an impossible job for an administration that took charge of the country only last month.

Over the course of their five-year rule, the Taliban administration launched a disarmament campaign which proved relatively successful. Law and order was restored and greater security provided to the people. With the fall of the Taliban government, however, criminals fear the law- enforcing forces, who are assisting the US troops in tracking down the Al-Qa’eda and Taliban fighters.

The security issue has also disrupted UN efforts to ship food to various parts of the country. With snowfall increasingly blocking off main transport arteries, the situation is likely to deteriorate further.

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