In Kabul, car theft isn’t a big problem, but it is a big concern. Security officials fear that militants could use stolen vehicles as car bombs. So the police have turned to a rather controversial tactic to deter thieves.
On a recent evening, a guest left our office only to discover two of his car tires had been punctured. Moments later, my producer discovered two of his tires had been punctured. Both cars were parked on the side of the street in front of our office.
As we quickly found out, there was no point in reporting the vandalism to the police — turns out they were responsible for it.
Nesar Ahmad Abdulrahimzai is the police chief for Kabul’s 10th district. He was initially reluctant to discuss the matter, but eventually he agreed to a brief phone conversation.
“The police puncture tires as precautionary measures,” he says.
“The police are poorly equipped and we simply have no other option to prevent car theft,” says Abdulrahimzai. So, he has instructed his officers to puncture tires of cars parked on the street after dark.
It seems rather extreme considering he says only two cars have been stolen in the district in the last six months.
To our surprise, we’ve heard that many city residents support the policy, though they probably have off-street parking. But there are plenty of complaints as well.
Zoheb Stanikzai, a 19-year old student, says he has nowhere to park his car except on the street.
“I’ve complained and given the police a letter saying I’m responsible for my car,” he says.
But to no avail. He’s already spent more than $500 on new tires, and the police won’t reimburse him.
One morning as we drove down one of the main streets near our office, we passed three cars with flat tires and a fourth where a group of men was busy changing the tires.
That’s welcome news to mechanics like Musafir Nabizadah. He’s quite happy with the policy.
“When tires are punctured more than once, which the police do,” he says, “the owner has to change the tire, which costs a lot for him.”
The policy gave him a rush of business when it went into effect a few weeks ago. Nabizadah also says it’s a good policy because it keeps the city safer.
Hamidullah Ataee disagrees.
“Actually, this is very stupid,” says Ataee, a former prosecutor who had four tires punctured when he parked his car in front of his house.
The practice is illegal under Afghan law, Ataee says, and the victims are legally parked when their cars are effectively vandalized. Police officers counter that by saying they have gone door to door warning people their tires would be punctured.
“They don’t do their job, but instead they puncture the tires and misuse their authority,” Ataee says.
He complained to the police and asked for reimbursement, but was told it was his fault for parking on the street.
There is supposed to be a phone line for people to call the police to file complaints, Ataee says, but it’s not connected. And, he says, many Afghans are afraid to complain to the police out of fear officers will retaliate.
The attorney general’s office in Kabul says it has not received any complaints against the police for puncturing tires.
Zaher Zaher, Kabul City police chief, says he opposes the policy. He says it’s part of a pattern of officers abusing their power.
“I apologize to those who have suffered from this problem,” he says.
He says he will stop it, though his spokesman later said puncturing tires is reasonable.
In the meantime, some police officers appear to be moderating their tactics. The other night while driving home, I saw an officer next to a parked car letting the air out of the tire’s valve.