The Guards of Kabul, From the 'Frontline' of the Afghan Capital

In the past weeks Kabul has been shaken by numerous suicide attacks. According to the security situation, armed guards seem to be posted at every corner of the Afghan capital: at checkpoints, at the entrance of ministries that are hidden behind massive roadblocks and high walls topped with barbed wire or just on the streets of the city itself. Although those security forces are on the "frontline" and, therefore, are most often the victims of these attacks, the guards of Kabul calmly think of their task as a honorable duty to their country.

In the quiet residential area of Wazir Akbar Khan in the centre of Kabul, police officer Shahob stands guard with a colleague. The grayish pale blue uniform of the Afghan National Police that is hanged out to dry in front of the little guardhouse suggests calmness, but the wall built out of sandbags and the Kalashnikovs slung over the policemen's shoulders betray this impression. Eagerly, he calls his task a honorable duty to the homeland. Although there has recently been a suicide attack nearby, he claims that he fears nothing. In the contrary, he states that Afghan policemen, Afghans in general, never have fear and immediately adds that they will defeat the Taliban.

With the Heart of a Lion

The soldiers in camouflage fatigues standing right in front of the National Directorate of Security, the infamous Afghan secret service, that, hidden behind massive concrete walls, looks more like a fortress, are far less serious than the young policeman. Two of them are fooling around and call one young man of the group with a dark complexion, beard and stylish black bandana jestingly a Talib. Eventually, the alleged Talib gets more serious and says that standing guard in Kabul is a boring job, but, with regard to the attacks, not without dangers. As they do it for the country, it is nonetheless a good thing. Also he claims that, in spite of the always-looming danger, he is never frightened. The other two seem to be bored by such questions and are more interested in mobile phones and girls.

At another road leading into the governmental quarter Shamsudin mans the red-and-white painted barrier while the daily traffic chaos of Kabul threatens to choke the roundabout right in front of him. In his view, Afghans like him have to take care of their country, so that Afghanistan can progress, prosper and become like countries in the West. Asked if the increasing suicide attacks in Kabul wouldn't worry him, he just points calmly to the Kalashnikov on his back without another word.

Later in the already pitch-dark evening there are, even as it is only eight o'clock, very few cars and pedestrians on the roads. A group of police officers standing beside roadblocks and an armed Humvee claim that the uniform is like the skin of a lion -- and lions don't know fear.

Martyrs, Heroes and a Lot of Pathos

The local police station at the rim of the village-like Kabul suburb of Tara Khel looks like a military base, but, as many other things in Afghanistan, gives a shabby impression; the surrounding walls are crumbling and have been reinforced with the chassis of old Russian tanks. Despite the two close-by suicide attacks that recently killed in total 7 security forces and wounded at least 17 others, the claim that the area along the short stretch of road between the station and the entrance to Kabul is crawling with insurgents, so that even police officers don't dare to go alone to some nearby places and that the station has once been hit by a rocket, the policemen here are all relaxed. However, they confirm the statement of the Director of the National Directorate of Security, Rahmatullah Nabil, that the security forces lack manpower and equipment. According to them, they just don't have enough men to fight the insurgents at the gates of Kabul effectively. It is hard to verify their stories; at least in this sunny afternoon the place at the foot of the arid, dusty, brown hills and mountains at the edge of the Hindu Kush seems to be calm and peaceful and there is not even the slightest sign of any looming danger. That this should be a nest of insurgents is hard to believe.

The commander of the local police station does not want to lament on difficulties of the police work or lacking resources. He explains that the police serves the Afghan people whatever the circumstances, hard or easy, may be and that the officers are at all times ready to even sacrifice their own life in the line of duty. The recent attacks would show that there are people trying to destroy Afghanistan, but the security forces would not be weakened and remain unshaken. According to him, there is one nation, one people, united under one religion -- one Afghanistan, and the police is there to protect and serve this Afghanistan.

The police also honor their dead. Officer Mir Afghan who was killed in one of the nearby suicide attacks is being revered as a martyr and hero on small and over-sized posters. According to the police commander, the world shall know that the Afghan nation is a nation of heroes. As often, there is a strong sense of propaganda. However, as Afghans are in general prone to pathos, it is nearly impossible to tell how much is propaganda and how much is indeed real conviction. At least in conversations with them, the guards of Kabul present themselves as fearless lions in uniform proudly defending their nation.

And, in the end, living in Kabul you may not become a fearless lion like them, but you realize that in a city as huge as this, even with numerous attacks, it is not even half as dangerous as you might think and you begin to see things here nearly as calmly as the Afghans.

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