Gunfire in Kabul? It’s not the Taliban - it’s the politicians
KABUL, Afghanistan — Heavy gunfire echoed down Darulaman Road, in the vicinity of Parliament and President Ashraf Ghani’s private home, for more than an hour very early Friday morning (March 17).
Police units mobilized and rushed to the area. Ms Shekaba Hashimi, who was up late helping her children study for their university exams, was convinced it was the Taliban. “I thought, *Oh, God, there is another attack in this area,’” she said.
Half of the city seemed to have the same fear, as sleepy Kabulis piled onto social media to share notes on the gunfire as it moved through town.
Hours later, the Kabul police sheepishly admitted that it was only another government big shot on another drunken rampage. In this case, the culprit was said to be Mr Lalai Hamidzai, a member of Parliament who once led its committee on the advancement of the rule of law.
Kabul’s police chief, Maj Gen Hassan Shah Frogh, said that Mr Hamidzai had been drunk and had chased through town after someone he was angry at, and ended up firing into a hotel where his quarry had taken refuge. Then, in a cover-up effort, he fired into the air at his own house a few miles away to make it look as if he were the one who had been attacked, Mr Frogh said.
Mr Hamidzai parried that charge of drunkenness by saying in a Facebook post that a senior policeman at the scene had been drunk, and that the policeman was an armed robber to boot.
Soon videos were broadcast of CCTV footage showing Mr Hamidzai staggering around and shooting at the gate of the hotel as his entourage fired automatic weapons into the air and over the walls. Mr Hamidzai insisted that the videos were faked, but the police said they were genuine.
Kabulis are all too familiar with the spectacle of powerful political figures charging around town and running roughshod over those who get in their way, even police officers. In fact, attacks on the Kabul police are far more common from such politicians than from the Taliban, though the insurgents’ attacks are typically more deadly.
Whether celebrating a cricket victory, expressing anger at being turned away from a wedding or protesting a roadblock, such politicians’ response has on numerous occasions been gunplay and violence * often fueled by liquor, even though it is illegal to possess or consume alcohol in Afghanistan.
Arrests in such cases are rare because those responsible usually have powerful allies in the government, and the authorities are loath to challenge their armed bodyguards, who act as mini-militias.
No one has been arrested in the episode involving Mr Hamidzai, although a police spokesman, Mr Abdul Basir Mujahid, said an investigation was underway.
On Saturday, the children of another member of Parliament, Mr Zaheer Sadat, a doctor from the Panjshir Valley with a history of brawling, got into a fight with the neighbor’s children. The adults in both houses opened fire on one another with automatic weapons, said Gen Salem Almas, the head of the Kabul Police criminal investigation division. Five people were wounded, he said.
Mr Sadat was not present at Saturday’s shooting, the police said. But in November 2015, when his convoy was stopped by the police, his bodyguards badly beat three of the officers, the police said. Sadat said that the officers had tried to attack him; the police said he was just angry at being stopped.
“No one is above the law,” said Mr Mirdad Nejrabi, the head of Parliament’s Internal Defense Committee. “Being a member of Parliament does not mean one has immunity to do whatever he or she can to disrupt law and order.”
Just over a week ago, a brother-in-law and an associate of Mr Hamidzai’s were stopped by the police while driving through the city drunk, according to a police official who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of being fired for discussing the case.
They beat up the officers and the police commander of the area who tried to intervene, the official said.
Senior security officials have also been accused of disturbing Kabul’s peace. In January, the head of the Kabul Garrison, Lt Gen. Gul Nabi Ahmadzai, and his men were reported to have indulged in widespread celebratory firing after his son got engaged. The shooting was so intense that many in the city thought a terrorist attack was underway.
Last year the government put the Kabul Garrison in charge of security in the city, with Mr Ahmadzai outranking the police chief. In doing so, it cited the unit’s greater level of professionalism since the Australian military trained and advised its command last year.
Mr Ahmadzai could not be reached for comment, but an aide who answered the phone in his office said, “Who doesn’t fire in the air in Afghanistan? Everyone does.”
There has long been a culture of impunity among Afghan politicians, but the weak coalition government has greatly worsened it.
As the frequency of such episodes rises, fed-up police officers are pushing back by going public. In an interview, Mr Almas, the head of the criminal investigation unit, disputed Mr Hamidzai’s claims that the video evidence of his shooting up the hotel had been faked.
Mr Almas said he was at the scene on Friday night, trying to persuade a drunken Mr Hamidzai to calm down and stop shooting. “We have the proof,” Almas said. “He cannot deny anything.” THE NEW YORK TIMES