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The Killid Group
Disabled Claim 'Rent' From HawkersWritten by Enayat Alrahman Mayar and Noor Agha Sultanzoy
Saturday, 14 August 2010 10:00
Vendors near Kabul's Pul-e-Khshti mosque say they pay a "union" of disabled people and the police to do business on the street. Those who don't pay the money, which could be as much as half the day's earnings, have their goods confiscated by the police, according to all the people that Killid interviewed.
"Every policeman who comes up to us takes money. We barely make a couple of hundred Afghans … They don't let us be," says Jamshid, 25, who was selling tomatoes on a cart in front of the mosque.
In addition, the policemen look the other way when the vendors are forced to pay "rent" to a group of disabled people who claim the sidewalk around the mosque has been allotted to them.
"In fact they're our partners - if we make some money, half of it goes to them," says Baz Muhammad who was busy turning the kababs on a grill in a crowded two metre space.
Next to Baz Muhammad is Haji Zabiullah, 55, who sells potatoes in an open cart. He manages to sell up to 70kg daily, he says, but a part of his earnings goes to paying off the "union of disabled". "The union takes Af 4,000 (per month) in rent," he says with frustration.
Nasrullah, who has a shoe shop in front of Pul-e-Khshti mosque, accuses the union of grabbing public space.
But a union member who did not want to be identified, aggressively counters the charge, and claims, "This place belongs to us and you have to pay us rent." Nasrullah pays a monthly Af 15,000 for his shoe shop.
Blame the police
Where does the buck stop? Street food hawker, Ahmad Parwiz, points fingers at the municipality which he says has ignored their petitions. "We went to the municipality several times, and submitted petitions, but nobody listens to us."
Union members insist they "partner" with vendors only in the Pul-e-Khshti area, and not in other parts of the city. The union's Saleh Muhammad claims the government has given him the land.
Afghanistan has a population of 800 thousand disabled, according to UN estimates, that came out of the long years of civil war in the 1980s and 1990s, while victims of land mines currently grow at a rate of 50 per month. The government gives them a small allowance, which is not enough to survive on.
"If the government doesn't raise our salaries, doesn't give us houses, we will hold demonstrations, and block the roads," threatens Noor Khan of the union.
The municipality says it wants the police to clear the sidewalks of vendors. Street sellers have no rights, the municipality asserts.
"The disabled people have usurped the sidewalks around Pul-e-Khshti Mosque, and if we try to stop them, they'll block the roads and cause a lot of trouble," says the municipality's Khair Mohammad Safdari who is in charge of the markets.
Mr. Safdari accuses the police of taking bribes to look the other way, and says, "The disabled union have an attorney who pays the police to allow the vendors to use the streets and sidewalks."
Blame the municipality
The deputy security commander of Asmaee Zone 101, General Dastyar, did not want to comment on the allegations. However, he said that the Kabul Municipality was responsible for the streets and sidewalks.
"The municipality staff should get out of their offices and if we (police) don't stand by them, then we're to blame," he says. "But if they're not capable of doing their job, then they shouldn't accuse the police of not helping them."
According to General Dastyar, the municipality should rehabilitate the disabled. He says he has requested them many times "but unfortunately they haven't been able to figure out a solution to the disabled people's problems."
Meanwhile, hawkers are blamed for the dirt and congestion on the streets. Sadiqullah Nasrat, who teaches at Kabul University, believes street food is a source of disease. "Dust falls on the exposed food items, and there are flies," he says.
Nazar Muhammad who sells bolani, a popular street food, in front of Pul-e-Khshti thinks vendors are not the only ones to blame.
"I admit that dust falls on the food items, and can lead to diseases," he says. "But the dirty water in the ponds contribute to diseases as well. Maybe the municipality should take a look at that as well!"