KABUL (Reuters) - Police in the Afghan capital have told foreigners living outside protected compounds to travel with guards, after the kidnapping of an Indian aid worker last week added to a growing sense of insecurity in Kabul.
The push is for the safety of residents, said Fraidoon Obaidi, chief of the Kabul police Criminal Investigation Department.
“All foreign citizens and their offices in Afghanistan are terrorists’ targets ... the kidnapping and criminal threat is very serious,” he told Reuters. “This will be prevented only if they use security guards and escorts.”
One document distributed by Obaidi’s officers to private homes and organization instructs residents to take a variety of security measures, including using armed police escorts if necessary.
But national security officials have distanced themselves from the police efforts, after critics complained that the measures were counterproductive and did not reduce the threats facing residents.
In the past week, foreign workers have reported police and intelligence agents stopping their cars, being taken to police stations, questioned about personal information, filmed and photographed.
The Interior Ministry was not involved in the decision to use such tactics, and plans to work with city police to change their security measures, said spokesman Sediq Sediqqi.
Although the capital has long faced threats, until a few years ago the war with Taliban insurgents was mostly waged in the countryside.
Many aid workers and journalists lived in upscale Kabul neighborhoods and frequented restaurants and sports clubs.
But since 2014, when most international troops pulled out of Afghanistan and militants launched high-profile attacks on restaurants popular with foreigners, some have relocated into protected compounds.
The kidnapping of 40-year-old Judith D’Souza on June 9 in the heart of Kabul has prompted police to step up pressure on foreigners to adopt more extensive security measures.
In some cases, the police tactics have prompted indignation from those they are designed to help.
“Telling us we can’t travel anywhere without armed guards is ridiculous,” said Sri Lankan Nayela Wickramasuriya. “We may as well not have police then.”
Wickramasuriya said police recently stopped her as she was leaving a friend’s house during the day time and tried to prevent her from traveling home.
“Is this the new Kabul?” was the thought freelance journalist Courtney Body said ran through her mind last week as she stood in an Afghan police station being questioned by nine officers who detained her and a friend for two hours after stopping their car.
As well as the D’Souza kidnapping, at least two other foreigners, from Germany and the Netherlands, were taken from the same neighborhood in separate incidents last year.
Both of those women were eventually released unharmed, with police saying the kidnappings were most likely financially motivated.
Wealthy Afghans also face an increased threat of kidnapping by gangs seeking to make money, and local employees of aid organizations are often kidnapped out in the field.
The German aid organization GIZ pulled all of its foreign employees from their houses in Kabul last year after two employees were separately abducted.
Other organizations have restricted movement, hired armed guards, imposed curfews, and moved to using armored vehicles.
Additional reporting by Mirwais Harooni; Editing by Mike Collett-White