Kabul residents 'on edge'

Extra security in Afghan capital after hotel attack does little to dispel safety fears.


    The attack on the Serena hotel in Kabul has raised
    security concerns in the Afghan capital [EPA]
    Kabul, the Afghan capital, has changed over the past two weeks since the Taliban penetrated the heavily guarded Serena hotel and killed up to eight people, including a Norwegian journalist.


    While the attack hasn't led to an exodus, Westerners who are living in this city and didn't have many security worries are now on edge.


    "We aren't panicking but we are watching to see if the situation deteriorates further," Anna Woodiwiss of the Turquoise Mountain Foundation, an international non-governmental organisation, told Al Jazeera.


    "Of course, as foreigners, we are thinking much more about where we travel ... where we are staying ... and we are trying to be pragmatic and cautious about our security."


    Taliban vow


    The Taliban has promised that they will strike again and they will deliberately target foreigners.


    "I call on all foreign countries who are not involved in military activities here to evacuate their citizens," Zabeullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, told Al Jazeera in a telephone interview.


    "The Afghan government will not be able to provide you with security.


    "Where foreigners gather ... we will strike."


    Around 4,000 foreigners are believed to be working for various aid agencies or diplomatic missions stationed in Afghanistan.


    When the Taliban attacked the Serena hotel on January 14, they made it clear that foreign workers and diplomats were now considered targets.


    The strike was well planned, sophisticated and had a high-propaganda value.


    Like many other organisations, the UN says although its operations have not been affected, staff have had to make some changes.


    "We are advising staff on safety measures outside the office. Obviously in light of warnings on restaurants, and so on, we are not advising staff to have a high profile. You won't see UN staff at restaurants for a while," Adrian Edwards, spokesperson for UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (Unama), told Al Jazeera.


    Business affected 


    It is now rare to see foreigners at restaurants or public places in Kabul. The impact the attack had on local businesses has been immediate.


    Hamade says his business has been
    hurt by the Taliban attacks
    Kamel Hamade, a restaurant owner, told Al Jazeera that his business sector is currently passing through a difficult situation and that many businesses may eventually close down.


    "We are presently passing through a difficult period but we have complete faith that things will get better especially if we don't take part in any military or political activities," he said.


    The Afghan government, which has downplayed the threat, said the attack showed Taliban's weakness.


    "They have no support among the population and are unable to hold territory so they resort to suicide attacks," Amrullah Saleh, the head of Afghanistan's intelligence service, said.


    But ever since the hotel attack, the authorities have stepped up security across the capital.


    Security forces are now seen at major intersections and checkpoints have been set up on major roads leading into Kabul.


    "The Taliban wanted to challenge the authorities and give them a message and that is 'we are not defeated'," Mullah Zaeef, former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, told Al Jazeera.


    "Whenever Nato says [they] are defeating the Taliban they encourage the opposition to do something to show that the international forces have not been successful."


    For now, a major challenge for the government is to ensure the attack on the Serena hotel remains a one-off incident - rather than part of a wider campaign targeting the capital.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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