Many say poor roadside vendors bear the brunt of Afghanistan's ambitious drive to improve security and combat crime in the capital
By Shadi Khan Saif
KABUL, Oct 22 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Kabul is evicting thousands of roadside vendors, destroying pushcarts and removing hoardings as part of an ambitious drive to instill "urban discipline" in the chaotic Afghan capital.
Since Saturday, armed police and city authorities have removed thousands of merchants who crowd the narrow streets with carts to hawk everything from drinks to cigarettes, hoping to clear congestion and ease traffic flows.
"Urban discipline will be restored for the first time after 28 years," Vice President Amrullah Saleh said in a Facebook post this week, announcing a slew of measures to bolster security.
"Beggars ... will not be allowed to stand or spread things in the middle of the roads," Saleh said.
His drive for "urban discipline" - in a city that is home to some 5 million people - is set to last six months.
Traders evicted from the city's upmarket Shahr-e-Nau neighborhood put up little resistance, onlookers said, wheeling away their carts as locals applauded the clear-up.
"Afreen (well done)," said one passerby. "Do not let them return to capture half of the road."
Kabul, once a fortified city known for its scenic views of lush valleys and snow-capped mountains has been reduced by decades of war to a teeming metropolis with pot-holed streets, snail-paced traffic and a chaos of unlicensed markets.
To tackle this, authorities want to remove what they call "illegal encroachments" from main roads, traditional markets and alleys, sparking protests by vendors who work the old city.
"May they (government officials) face the wrath of God and deprive them of their livelihood as they have deprived us," fruit vendor Ghulam Sakhi told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
He said city authorities flanked by police had bulldozed the belongings of merchants without prior notice.
City authorities denied any rough handling, with Kabul Municipality spokesman Mustafa Siddiqi saying street vendors would get their possessions back after giving assurances they would not resume a roadside business.
Many Kabul residents expressed concern, saying it was a cosmetic solution with poor vendors bearing the brunt.
Vice President Saleh's decision to clean up the streets and combat crime in the city came as an ongoing campaign called "Kabul is not Safe" - or #KabulIsNotSafe - rages on social media following a series of armed robberies and murders.
The campaign has thousands of followers, most of whom blame the surging crime on deteriorating law and order and poverty.
One of the campaign's organisers said the evictions would not deter criminals but rather alienate war-ravaged, rural refugees seeking jobs and shelter in the capital.
"The best way to address the situation is to improve security, create jobs and curb corruption," said Hussain Buyook, a 30-year-old radio broadcaster and human rights activist.
Footage of authorities towing away street vendors' carts and goods received a mixed reaction online.
"Efforts to clean up the city are commendable, but it is inappropriate to take away the property of the oppressed," said Twitter user Hedayatullah Ahadi.
Siddiqi of the Kabul Municipality said "genuine and needy" traders would be relocated or re-employed after document checks.
"We have registered up to 7,000 street vendors and would soon provide them with a proper alternate place for work that would not cause traffic congestions or harm urban discipline," he said.
(Reporting by Shadi Khan Saif, Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths and Annie Banerji; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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