Equipo Nizkor
        Bookshop | Donate
Derechos | Equipo Nizkor       


Attacks in Kabul Keep Wall Builders Busy, Turning City Into Labyrinth

After bombings in Kabul these days, new concrete blast walls go up, taller than the ones before. Streets leading to V.I.P. homes are blocked to traffic. To drive in certain neighborhoods is to delve into a frustrating game of maze navigation, with surprise barricades popping up overnight.

In a grim reflection of life in the Afghan capital, the small blast-wall factories lined up on the city's outskirts are among the few businesses that have managed to stay basically viable despite the reeling economy. Mixers churn out concrete, and laborers cast it in wooden molds. Trucks ferry the T-shaped walls to spots around the city, one of the most barricaded in the world.

"It is our sad reality: After a suicide bombing, we get more work," said Noor ul Haq, who has been managing one such small business for six years.

After a huge truck bombing near an elite Afghan security agency last month, Mr. Haq had 15 potential customers visit in one week. The attack was so large that it shattered windows across wide stretches of the city and flung body parts into the Kabul River, which was raging after days of rain.

"The week before the bombing, we had no customers," he said.

Like most of the "complex attacks" in Kabul — which involve bombing a compound and then sending in fighters — last month's bombing was the work of the Haqqani network, an arm of the insurgency known for its urban assaults. The Haqqanis' growing integration into the mainstream Taliban, at a time when peace talks have collapsed, has heightened fears of more such attacks — and the blast walls are multiplying.

The dull structures used to be mainly about 11 feet tall, but newer walls are as high as 20 feet, both to repel the force of larger explosions and to block the sightlines of any Taliban snipers.

The blast walls have become such an integral part of Kabul's identity that they blend into the cityscape. Most residents have accepted the narrowing of the roads and roundabouts, the blocking of the views of iconic buildings, as facts of life.

Activists and artists have tried to turn them into canvases for their messages. One project in particular, ArtLords, is leaving its mark. The logic is simple: You cannot escape the walls, so you may as well use them to remind people about some of the scourges of society, like corruption so entrenched that it seems inescapable.

"I am proud of my father — he is not corrupt," reads one message, in bold black letters, next to an ArtLords mural. It is painted on the blast walls of a building belonging to the Finance Ministry, long considered one of the most corrupt institutions in Afghanistan.

In one of Kabul's main squares, the blast walls protecting a military base are painted light olive. A tiny park, with two benches and some grass and rosebushes, has seemingly grown in front of the walls, providing a respite for visitors to one of the city's busiest hospitals, around the corner, or the Public Health Ministry, across the road.

But the view from the benches is largely blocked by a makeshift rest stall for the police officers stationed at the roundabout. The stall is boxed by blast walls. Beyond the stall, one can see only the taller blast walls of the United States Embassy, a 36-acre complex. The only spot of color in view is the blue tip of the minaret at the roundabout, dedicated to the prominent victim of a suicide bombing.

The blast walls are the most visible legacy of the American war, and they are not exclusive to Afghanistan: At the peak of violence in Baghdad, there was hardly a street without blast barriers or walls. Hundreds of thousands of walls, each costing close to $1,000, carved up entire neighborhoods to prevent the flow of insurgents. When the violence briefly dwindled and the government decided to lift them and let the city breathe a little, officials had no idea what to do with them. Flatbed trucks transported the walls to a desert.

But not for long. As violence in and around Baghdad has picked up again, with bombings a nearly daily occurrence, the Baghdad Operations Command has decided to use the blast walls to build a protective belt around the city. The first phase of the project, which began in February, stretches 62 miles.

In Kabul, there has been no serious effort to move the walls out — security has been getting only worse in recent years.

Despite the walls' hold on the city's landscape and consciousness, though, the businesses dedicated to them are not exactly thriving. Their best days are over after the drawdown of American forces, whose need to protect their bases was the engine for the wall industry.

Around 2010, the Khwajazada Construction Company had contracts for as many as 1,000 blast walls at a time, loading trucks day and night, said Behdar Kohistani, a former teacher who is the company's office manager. Now the company is left with piecemeal orders from government officials who do not pay on time. The prices have also dropped, to less than $200 per wall from around $400 at the peak.

"It's been two years that we provided blast walls to three senior officials, and they still haven't paid," Mr. Kohistani said.

Unlike the Americans, who paid as soon as the walls were delivered, the government is cheap and resorts to recycling, said Mahdi Shahi, who manages a company down the road from Khwajazada. "They don't buy new blast walls — they just bring it from one minister's home to the next," he said.

To pass time until the next order, after the next blast, Mr. Kohistani, also a prolific poet, composes verses on company stationery.

My rising up, for ages now, has shattered doors and walls

But only a small corrupt voice shatters my heart.

[Source: By Mujib Mashal, The New York Times, Kabul, 16May16]

Bookshop Donate Radio Nizkor

War in Afghanistan & Iraq
small logoThis document has been published on 23May16 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.