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The Killid Group
Armed gangs threaten businessWritten by Fazel Hadi Hamidi and Turialai Himat
Saturday, 11 February 2012 11:52
Afghan investors are threatening to pull out of Nangarhar if the government does not rein in corruption and bolster security.
Businessmen who are mostly traders and money-changers, say they have no choice but to submit to the blackmail of armed groups who force them to pay so-called protection money. No one wanted to disclose names of the blackmailers for fear of retaliation.
A businessman in Nangarhar province, Haji Faroq said, "On January 14 armed members of a gang attacked my company and robbed money. They fired guns in the air to ensure no one opposed them."
Haji Faroq added that many other businessmen have faced similar situations. While some have reported the attack to the police, others have not, he added. "They (armed gangs) have taken money from me, and all the companies and business," he said. They intimidate businessmen into silence by the display of weapons. "Business believes that if they do not pay up, armed groups will shut them down, or even kill," he said.
Intimidation and no protection
There are 40,000 big and small businesses in the province according to Nangarhar Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
According to Haji Faroq, businessmen in the capital city Jalalabad have suffered but have never complained. "We don't care what will happen to us," he said of business in Nangarhar province. "Whether anyone will support us or not, we will complain," he added.
Gul Murad, another businessman, confirmed that everyone among them have paid bribe money to the armed gangs. Haji Gul Murad explained the money is collected by force in the province. There are four collection points. The first victim was Haji Liaqat who was kidnapped from Sarafi Avenue in the capital city. This was followed by the abduction of the son of Haji Abdul Rahman.
Who will uphold the law?
Officials in the Chamber of Commerce and Industry warned that if the government does not take urgent action, running businesses would collapse. Executive manager of Nangarhar Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Mohammad Qasim Yousofi, held government departments at fault, particularly the provincial government departments. "Government authorities see what they can illegally take, and are not concerned with the law," he said.
He said those who have to follow up on complaints do not do so, especially those pertaining to businessmen. "The problem is not just confined to Nangarhar but country-wide," he insisted.
"If the government wants investors, it will have to pay attention to the complaints," he added.
Nangarhar member of Parliament, Mewais Yasini, said illegal forces take protection money. He accused the government of protecting the groups and stated that they have beneficial relationship and link with each other. He added, "Illegal powers take away a land on one side and from the other side they collect tribute from businessmen and the government has links with both sides. I say that despite the fact that I have close relations with the government."
He stated that the government is weak and the problem was not confined to Nangarhar but it "covers the whole country".
He said the government and governor of Nangarhar, Gul Agha Sherzai, were aware of the problem, but they have not taken any action yet.
Nangarhar attorney in parliament, Aryan Youn said the situation had become a barrier to commerce, and has become the "cause of capital to escape from the country which affects our society and country".
She also believed there was strong governmental support, and although it has been brought to the notice of the authorities they have not taken any action.
Spokesman of Nangarhar province, Ahmad Zia Abdulzai, denied government inaction and said whenever businesses that faced risk from armed gangs have complained, action was urgently taken by the directorate of the governor.
Everything under control
Meanwhile security authorities in the province have denied the presence of armed groups who collect protection money from businessmen and others by force.
Deputy security in charge, Samonwal Mohammad Masom Hashimi dismissed the complaints as "propaganda against the government".
"The rule of law prevails in the province. The governmental departments, provincial officials, command, police, army and other forces coordinate with us and no one can disobey the law," he said.