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No longer a safe haven

Aref Karimi
Regional investors consider it an island of tranquility, but Herat is facing increasing security challenges as unemployed Afghan workers migrate to this economic hub from other provinces.
22.09.2014  |  Herat

 

Herat province is experiencing a rise in kidnappings and extremist attacks in recent months, heightening local concerns of a deteriorating security situation in the province. An economic hub near the Iran-Afghanistan border, the province is struggling to accommodate some 40,000 migrants who are fleeing poverty, insecurity and natural disasters in other parts of the country. Coupled with post-election political uncertainty and allegations of interference by regional powers, the population influx threatens to undermine Herat's future socioeconomic stability. 
Terrorist attacks, kidnappings, and the killings of foreigners have undermined Herat's reputation as one of Afghanistan's more tranquil provinces. Six police officers have died in terrorism-related incidents, and two Finnish aid workers were shot in a marketplace shooting in June. In another case, six local employees of the Red Cross were kidnapped in Adraskan District in Herat province by unidentified individuals. The Red Cross has since secured their release. Overall, ore than 100 terrorist attacks and 30 kidnappings took place in Herat in the past six months, according to members of the Herat Provincial Council. 
Muhammad Rafeeq Shaheer, an expert on political affairs, believes that one of the main factors for insecurity in Afghanistan is the uncertain outcome of this year's presidential election. Although a tacit agreement between candidates Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah now points to the formation of a new government in which Ghani will hold the presidential post, months of political deadlock have slowed financial transactions and wreaked havoc on the local economy. The situation has also impacted the preparedness of Afghan security forces, allowing insurgents to exploit the situation. 
“Due to the never-ending election deadlock, the economy is not in a good shape and the unemployment rate is high," said Hameedullah Khadem, Chairman of the Industrialists Union in Herat. "All infrastructural work and projects and business activities are on the verge of collapse."
 
The economic decline has drawn thousands of unemployed Afghans to Herat, known as the area's economic hub. In the past year, some 4,000 migrants moved to Herat from other provinces, according to Ahmad Ehsan Sarwaryar, Chairman of the Refugees in Herat. Aside from poverty and unemployment, the refugees have fled insurgent attacks, droughts, and floods.
“Poverty and unemployment has immediate impact on Herat's security situation," said Abdul Rauf, spokesman for the Herat Police Department. "Many migrated to Herat from other provinces and districts. Some of them are willing to commit crimes and plant mines to make a living." 
Part of the concern over Herat's future security can be chalked up to the province's geo-strategic location. As an important trading outpost in the ancient province of Khorasan, the city of Herat  played a vital role for the Persian, Arab, Turko-Mongolian and Afghan conquerers who strived for dominance in the area during the past 2,500 years. Modern Herat remains the most densely populated province after Kabul, and is an important center for Afghan-Iranian trade. 
Locals remain wary of Iran's close cultural and economic links in Herat and Western Afghanistan. “We have frequently voiced our concern over the involvement of Iran in the destabilization of Herat, but the security council of Afghanistan never listened to us,” said Sayeed Waheed Qatali, chairman of Herat's Provincial Council. 
He added that Iran presents a more favorable environment for Afghan businessmen and invites them to invest in industrial parks located just across the border. "Insecurity has driven Afghan businessmen out of the country. They all want a calm and security," he said. "Iran provided such an environment." Herat province has seen a rise in kidnappings and extremist attacks in recent months, heightening local concerns of a deteriorating security situation in the province. An economic hub near the Iran-Afghanistan border, the province is struggling to accommodate some 40,000 migrants who are fleeing poverty, insecurity and natural disasters in other parts of the country. Coupled with post-election political uncertainty and allegations of interference by regional powers, the population influx threatens to undermine Herat's future socioeconomic stability. 

Terrorist attacks, kidnappings, and the killings of foreigners have undermined Herat's reputation as one of Afghanistan's more tranquil provinces. Six police officers have died in terrorism-related incidents, and two Finnish aid workers were shot in a marketplace shooting in June. In another case, six local employees of the Red Cross were kidnapped in Adraskan District in Herat province by unidentified individuals. The Red Cross has since secured their release. Overall, more than 100 terrorist attacks and 30 kidnappings took place in Herat in the past six months, according to members of the Herat Provincial Council. 

Displaced migrants congregate in a provisional camp outside Herat City. (Photos: Aref Karimi)

Displaced migrants congregate in provisional camps in Herat province. Photos: Aref Karim - See more at: http://www.afghanistan-today.org/article/?id=784&p=1#sthash.Tyvl3hH1.dpuf
Displaced migrants congregate in provisional camps in Herat province. Photos: Aref Karim - See more at: http://www.afghanistan-today.org/article/?id=784&p=1#sthash.Tyvl3hH1.dpuf

Muhammad Rafeeq Shaheer, an expert on political affairs, believes that one of the main factors for insecurity in Afghanistan is the uncertain outcome of this year's presidential election. Although a tacit agreement between candidates Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah now points to the formation of a new government in which Ghani will hold the presidential post, months of political deadlock have slowed financial transactions and wreaked havoc on the local economy. The uncertainty has also impacted the preparedness of Afghan security forces, allowing insurgents to exploit the situation. 

“Due to the never-ending election deadlock, the economy is not in a good shape and the unemployment rate is high," said Hameedullah Khadem, chairman of the Industrialists Union in Herat. "All infrastructural work and projects and business activities are on the verge of collapse." 

The decline coincides with the arrival of some 4,000 migrants who moved to Herat from other provinces in the past year, according to Ahmad Ehsan Sarwaryar, Chairman of the Refugees in Herat. Aside from poverty and unemployment, the refugees have fled insurgent attacks, droughts, and floods.

“Poverty and unemployment has immediate impact on Herat's security situation," said Abdul Rauf, spokesman for the Herat Police Department. "Many migrated to Herat from other provinces and districts. Some of them are willing to commit crimes and plant mines to make a living." 

Part of the concern over Herat's future security can be chalked up to the province's geo-strategic location. As an important trading outpost in the ancient province of Khorasan, the city of Herat  played a vital role for the Persian, Arab, Turko-Mongolian and Afghan conquerers who sought to control the area over the course of the past 2,500 years. Modern Herat remains Afghanistan's most densely populated province after Kabul, and is an important center for Afghan-Iranian trade. 

Locals remain wary of Iran's close cultural and economic links in Herat and Western Afghanistan. “We have frequently voiced our concern over the involvement of Iran in the destabilization of Herat, but the security council of Afghanistan never listened to us,” said Sayeed Waheed Qatali, chairman of Herat's Provincial Council. 

He added that Iran presents a more favorable environment for Afghan businessmen and invites them to invest in industrial parks located just across the border. "Insecurity has driven Afghan businessmen out of the country. They all want a calm and security," he said. "Iran provided such an environment." 

Days before he was dismissed from his job as the chief of Herat's provincial police in August, General Samay-ullah Qatra said "three people" who are "in Iran and funded by Iran" were behind the recent wave of terrorist attacks. 

Despite such theories, diplomatic ties between Tehran and Kabul remain strong. At the end of last year, President Hamid Karzai and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani agreed to strategically strengthen economic and security ties via a "pact of friendship."