Welcome to my Kabul-based crime blog. I will post analyses of real life crimes that highlight the connections between crime and politics in Afghanistan. I will also link to articles that shine a light on the dark side of life in the Afghan capital.

In addition to this I will also review both contemporary and vintage crime fiction mostly revolving around random books I am able to buy or find. As ever I welcome your comments and analysis.

DTK Molise.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Arrest Operation

Kabul City, April 19th 2010.  An Afghan Government statement released today indicated that nine men (including three Pakistani nationals) have been arrested in two separate locations of the capital.  One of the locations was said to be a Madrassa (religious school), the other, a nondescript family apartment in the restive eastern part of the city.

All nine men, including two teenagers and a man in his fifties, were charged with “intending to conduct terrorist acts” thought to be suicide attempts.  According to police a large quantity of arms and explosives including eight assault rifles, eight grenades, two RPG launchers, and 200 kilograms of explosives were recovered from the two locations and have now been taken into official custody.

Once again we see that crime and politics are inextricably linked in the Afghan capital.  Whilst arrests like this happen on at least a weekly basis none of the obvious questions ever seem to be answered.  
  1. Where are these guns and explosives coming from?  
  2. Are Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency behind the supplies to the insurgents?   
  3. Perhaps they are provided by sympathetic Afghan’s who have a stash of weapons?  
  4. Or maybe the insurgents are purchasing guns via the trade of drugs that filters through the Russian Mafia?

As with everything in this country being an observer of Afghan crime often leaves more questions than answers.      

Never Trust a Man in Uniform

In the UK we are told from a young age that a man in a uniform is someone to instinctively trust.  They are someone to go to if you find yourself in trouble, or lost, or without hope.  The situation in Kabul cannot be more different.  This teeming, bustling city of at least 5 million is home to thousands of Afghan National Police (ANP), Afghan National Army (ANA) and countless NATO troops.

Overall, it should be said, the ANA and ANP are doing a sterling job in what are very difficult circumstances.  How many cops in the West would be willing to be on the front line, on a daily basis, in stopping not just criminal activity but also anti-government terrorists?  Fair do’s to the guys out there trying their best to uphold law and order but this country must be one of the world's most dangerous places to fight crime.     

As the US has pulled back from day to day management of the city Kabul is now managed by ANP and ANA patrols and roadblocks that litter the city.  Distinguishing between these two groups is the first challenge for the uninitiated as the ANP have been created as a form of quasi-military force: “Bobbies on the Beat” they ain’t.

The most challenging and problematic element, however, is the use of uniforms (both ANA and ANP) by criminals and anti-government insurgents.  Over the last year or so a number of terrorist activities have been carried out by men dressed in stolen or illegally acquired uniforms.  

In one famous event, at a UN guest house, all four suicide attackers were dressed in this official garb.  When an attacker jumped on the back wall to attack the foreigners that were hiding the only armed civilian told me that he had to withhold his fire until the attacker pointed his gun directly at them and he was sure he was definitely not an officer.  You do not want to be shooting an official of the state unless you want to spend time in Kabul jail.

Only last week an insurgent dressed in an ANA uniform approached a NATO team parked at Kabul International Airport and initiated a Body-Borne Improvised Explosive Device (or BBIED as the acronym so vaguely puts it) that killed one and wounded six.  Once again this activity highlights the fact that ANA and ANP uniforms are readily available for a fee and that when that man comes walking to you looking officious your trust should be far from absolute.   

Poison, Misogyny and Politics

On April 20th 2010 in the potholed outskirts of the Shina Bagrami area, eastern Kabul City, seven female school students, along with one teacher, from the local girls’ high school were taken to the Indira Gandhi Hospital after falling sick and losing consciousness.

After discussing with teachers who stated that the air did not seem “quite right” school authorities have undertaken an investigation into this unsettling event.  The school has since concluded that some form of poisonous powder had been sprayed into the air of the classrooms at the school, which had in turn been inhaled by the unsuspecting students. 

An official British analyst who reports on daily events in the country has stated that “Although not proven, this sort of misogynist incident does unfortunately ring true”. So goes another criminal event in the Afghan capital.  Not many countries have crime and criminals that are so indelibly rooted to the politics of the state but in Afghanistan this is par for the course.  

The actions of criminals are often inherently connected to those of the anti-government insurgency yet the victims remain patently similar to those in Western states: vulnerable, weak and effectively defenseless.  In Kabul poisoning, misogyny and politics unfortunately go hand in hand.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Triptych by Karin Slaughter: A Review

For my first post I have decided to start with a review of a "found" book.  Due to the nature of my life I am currently not able to pick up much decent English language fiction in Kabul, let alone crime fiction, and at the moment I have to make do with what I can somehow acquire.

I found "Triptych" by Karin Slaughter on the bookshelf of a nice little cafe in the dusty backstreets of Kabul. If I am honest I wouldn't have picked this book up unless it was free because I see myself as more of an Ellroy, Peace or Pelecanos man and thought that Triptych would perhaps be a little commercial for my tastes. I think I was probably right in my initial thoughts and as a result I would seriously consider whether I would read another of Slaughter's books.

First, in order to be fair, it is worth exploring some of the books good points. The writing style is pretty lucid and reads at a good pace which means that as a reader you do not suffer from boredom. The first section of the book has an interesting plot with some pretty decent development of a good, yet flawed, Atalanta PD detective. The second section of the book, whilst putting the reader out of kilter by focusing on a totally separate story and characters, is also interestingly done with some quasi-psychological insights into the mind of a killer.

Whilst this is not a one star book Triptych is still deeply flawed. The third part of the story just does not piece together in any way. Slaughter tries to bring the two previous sections together but resorts to using cheap ways to link characters. The decision to have three separate sections meant that none of the main characters were developed in any meaningful way. It is hard to care about any of the main, or peripheral, characters and the insights into their motivations are very weak and yet because of the way the plot twists all of your insights turnout to be meaningless anyway.

One of the biggest failures of this book is in relation to its setting of Atlanta. I do not know much about Atlanta and after reading nearly 500 pages of a book set there I am none the wiser. Slaughter claims in her authors note that she "tried to capture the flavor of my city". On this she resolutely failed. If you compare her depiction of Atalanta with that of Boston by Dennis Lehane or DC by George Pelecanos you can really see the flaws in her judgment. However the biggest problem with this book is the ending...it does not make any sense with the killer suddenly dropping his years of careful planning for no apparent reason. A suspension of disbelief is possible but this plot takes the biscuit.

It is clear that, to a degree, Slaughter had a good idea but the delivery on that idea just did not live up to expectations. When I finished the book I just felt like she had given up. The denouement is so unbelievable that it just beggars belief and leaves a sour taste due to the fact that she appeared to have such little respect for her readers.