‘Unprecedented’ crackdown on crime welcomed by Afghans

Afghan protesters march for peace and and an end to violence and criminality as they hold banners in the Kandahar province on January 17, 2019. (AFP/JAVED TANVEER)
Updated 18 January 2019

‘Unprecedented’ crackdown on crime welcomed by Afghans

  • Interior Minister Amruallah Saleh's first act was to order his subordinates to ignore the long-standing tradition of presenting politicians with flowers and gowns when they are promoted
  • Saleh has also banned politicians and lawmakers from traveling with their ubiquitous security details (

KABUL: When Amruallah Saleh took office as Afghanistan’s interior minister last month, he wasted no time setting out his stall. His first act was to order his subordinates to ignore the long-standing tradition of presenting politicians with flowers and gowns when they are promoted.

“Lay down the flowers that you have bought as gifts for me on the graves of martyrs who you know from the security forces,” he said in a speech after assuming office last month. “Put the gown that you have bought for me on the shoulders of the broken-hearted fathers of the fallen.”

He went on to discuss his determination to act “mercilessly against criminals and the enemy.” At the time, many assumed Saleh’s comments to be the usual empty political promises so often heard from Afghan politicians assuming office in recent years, particularly as attacks by militants and criminal activity increased in Kabul in the early weeks of Saleh’s tenure. 

However, it seems as though Saleh, a former spymaster, is making good on his promise. The joint measures he has instigated with Kabul’s police chiefs to crack down on crime — including naming and shaming those wanted for involvement in criminal activity — have been a success. Some arrests have already been made, and a number of individuals on the blacklist have reportedly turned themselves in for questioning.

“He has shown decisiveness and courage by naming some of the culprits. That in itself is an initiative that has made people optimistic,” security analyst and retired general Attiqullah Amarkhail told Arab News.

Saleh has also banned politicians and lawmakers from traveling with their ubiquitous security details (usually traveling in a convoy of blacked-out vehicles) inside Kabul. Unsurprisingly, that move has attracted criticism from some senators, but has been welcomed by residents and other politicians.

Zaki Nadery, a Kabul resident, said the nation was “thirsty for reform” and that people already feel more secure in the city now that steps have been taken against lawbreakers, a sentiment echoed by several people interviewed by Arab News.

“People now have a relative sense of psychological and mental security. This is the result of tangible results from the work of the new minister. People have begun to trust and respect the police,” Nadery said.



Firefighters battle wildfire in Portugal, 32 people hurt

Updated 22 July 2019

Firefighters battle wildfire in Portugal, 32 people hurt

COLOS, Portugal: More than 1,000 firefighters battled a major wildfire Monday amid scorching temperatures in Portugal, where forest blazes wreak destruction every summer.
About 90% of the fire area in the Castelo Branco district, 200 kilometers (about 125 miles) northeast of the capital Lisbon, was brought under control during cooler overnight temperatures, according to local Civil Protection Agency commander Pedro Nunes.
But authorities said they expected heat in and winds to increase again in the afternoon, so all firefighting assets remained in place. Forests in the region are tinder-dry after weeks with little rain.
The Portuguese Civil Protection Agency said 321 vehicles and eight water-dumping aircraft were deployed to tackle the blaze, which has raced through thick woodlands.
Nunes told reporters that the fire, in its third day, has injured 32 people, one seriously.
Police said they were investigating what caused the fire amid suspicions it may have been started deliberately.
Temperatures were forecast to reach almost 40 C (104 F) Monday — prolonging a spell of blistering weather that is due to hit northern Europe late this week.
Recent weeks have also seen major wildfires in Spain, Greece and Germany. European Union authorities have warned that wildfires are “a growing menace” across the continent.
In May, forest fires also plagued Mexico and Russia.
Huge wildfires have long been a summer fixture in Portugal.
Residents of villages and hamlets in central Portugal have grown accustomed to the summer blazes, which destroy fruit trees, olive trees and crops in the fields.
In the hamlet of Colos, 50-year-old beekeeper Antonio Pires said he had lost half of his beehives in the current wildfire. Pires sells to mainly Portuguese and German clients, but also to Brazil and China.
“(I lost) 100 out of 230 (hives), so almost half,” Pires said. “A lot of damage.”
The country’s deadliest fire season came in 2017, when at least 106 people were killed.
The average annual area charred by wildfires in Portugal between 2010 and 2016 was just over 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres). That was more than in Spain, France, Italy or Greece — countries which are significantly bigger than Portugal.
Almost 11,500 firefighters are on standby this year, most of them volunteers. Volunteers are not uncommon in fire brigades in Europe, especially in Germany where more than 90% are volunteers.
Experts and authorities have identified several factors that make Portugal so particularly vulnerable to forest blazes. Addressing some of them is a long-term challenge.
The population of the Portuguese countryside has thinned as people have moved to cities in search of a better life. That means woodland has become neglected, especially as many of those left behind are elderly, and the forest debris is fuel for wildfires.
Large areas of central and northern Portugal are covered in dense, unbroken stretches of forest on hilly terrain. A lot of forest is pine and eucalyptus trees, both of which burn fiercely.
Environmentalists have urged the government to limit the area of eucalyptus, which burns like a torch. But it is a very valuable crop for Portugal’s important paper pulp industry, which last year posted sales worth 2.7 billion euros ($3 billion). The government says it is introducing restrictions gradually.
Experts say Portugal needs to develop a diversified patchwork of different tree species, some of them more fire-resistant and offering damper, shaded.
Climate change has become another challenge, bringing hotter, drier and longer summers. The peak fire season used to run from July 1 to Sept. 30. Now, it starts in June and ends in October.
After the 2017 deaths, the government introduced a raft of measures. They included using goats and bulldozers to clear woodland 10 meters (33 feet) either side of country roads. Property owners also have to clear a 50-meter (164-feet) radius around an isolated house, and 100 meters (328 feet) around a hamlet.
Emergency shelters and evacuation routes have been established at villages and hamlets. Their church bells aim to toll when a wildfire is approaching.
With 98% of blazes caused by human hand, either by accident or on purpose, officials have also been teaching people how to safely burn stubble and forest waste. Police, army and forest service patrols are also increased during the summer.