Kabul’s targeted Shiites rely on armed community protection force against Daesh
KABUL: The restaurants and cafes in Kabul’s upmarket Pul-i-Sorkh, at the entrance of the city’s Shiite dominated neighborhood, used to be bustling spots for female and male customers most evenings.
Some dressed up in local attire, observing full hijab. Others, both men and women, wore Western clothes and occasionally smoked shisha in some of the cafes, with loud music blaring inside.
Sometimes, girls wearing heavy makeup walked arm in arm with their husband or fiancé on the streets, breaking the social taboo.
The neighborhood has rightly earned the pseudonym of Kabul’s “Little Europe” because of the liberal way of life that some of the Shiites and Hazaras have adopted since the US landing in Afghanistan in 2001.
However, the new wave of deadly strikes by Daesh affiliates in the Shiite-dominated suburb of Dashte Barchi, which is further down from Pul-i-Sorkh, has not only shocked the Shiite community of Kabul but also affected business for many of these restaurants in Pul-i-Sorkh.
Several Shiite gathering areas, including mosques, cultural and educational centers and even a sports gym, have been targeted by Daesh suicide bombers since 2016. The attacks have resulted in the loss of hundreds of people in Kabul and other parts of Afghanistan.
At the request of Shiite leaders, the government last year allowed a community protection force to be formed from among local residents.
Volunteers were given arms and cash as a salary to protect their mosques and religious centers in their community.
However, the initiative has not been very productive as numerous attacks have occurred since.
Shocked by the increase in Daesh attacks in recent weeks, and the blatant warning issued by the group to target Shiite schools and other centers in future, the Shiite leaders have now asked President Ashraf Ghani for an expansion in the local community protection force.
Scores of families since last week have stopped sending their children to school after the warning that certain schools will be the target of attacks.
Afghan Vice President Sarwar Danesh spoke with the special envoy of the United Nations to Afghanistan this week, calling the attacks targeted and urging him to include the issue as a separate debate point for the world body.
Speaking to a group of reporters, Ghani on Wednesday said Daesh and other anti-state elements wanted to fan sectarian and ethnic clashes through such attacks.
In meetings with Shiite leaders earlier this week, Ghani pushed for boosting security for the protection of Afghan Shiites ahead of Muharram, a holy month, mostly observed by Shiites which includes flagellation and parades on the streets.
Chaman Ali Behseodi, a group leader for the community protection force, said the government will recruit more individuals, equip them with arms and pay them cash for permanent security of schools, educational, cultural and religious centers for Shiites in the Dashte Barchi area.
“Since the population of Kabul is high and police are overstretched, people have asked for extra men to be deployed to these places,” he told Arab News.
“People will cooperate with government for their own protection and expect the government to take serious action in this regard.”
Nasrat Rahimi, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, told Arab News that individuals recruited will undergo checks such as biometric tests and will have to be vouched for by their community elders.
Nasrullah Neli, a Shiite lawmaker, told Arab News that the expansion of the community protection force has had a divided response from lawmakers.
Some local Shiite residents have already started using their private arms for protection of their streets in certain parts of Dashte Barchi and Kabir Wasiq, a local resident told Arab News.
Arming of locals may be a temporary solution, but not a permanent answer to security, he adds.