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Kabul Security Gates Languish Amid Dispute Among Afghan Authorities

Afghan security personnel inspect the site of a car bomb attack at the gate of a government office in the Puli Mahmood Khan neighborhood of Kabul in April.
Afghan security personnel inspect the site of a car bomb attack at the gate of a government office in the Puli Mahmood Khan neighborhood of Kabul in April.

A set of large security gates intended to protect the Afghan capital, Kabul, from bomb attacks and drug smuggling are languishing in a warehouse almost six months after they arrived as local authorities disagree over who should install them.

Financed by China, the gates are meant for the four main entry points into the city. The delay, however, has been due to infighting between departments and a dispute over land -- all of which highlight just how difficult it can be to get things done in a country rife with conflict and corruption.

Each of the hangar-style gates weighs around 30 metric tons and is meant to reinforce the so-called Ring Of Steel that surrounds Kabul, where blast walls, armed checkpoints, and eye-in-the-sky surveillance cameras also add protection for the city's 5 million residents.

While there are many entrances to Kabul, security officials say channeling larger vehicles through the gates would reduce the risk of truck and car bombs. The gates would also be equipped with control rooms and surveillance scanners to better inspect incoming traffic.

The number of civilian deaths is rising in Afghanistan as Taliban militants try to topple the Western-backed government and drive out foreign troops. An offshoot of the Islamic State militant group has also claimed responsibility for several of the past year’s attacks.

Not all attacked are car or truck bombs, but in September a car bomb killed dozens of people after it went off outside a central Kabul security office during rush hour, killing dozens of people.

"It shows that the ministry's different departments are sadly incapable of setting them (the new gates) up, and Kabul police are delaying them for no reason," said a senior Interior Ministry official who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to the media. "These gates are made with the latest technology, and delaying their installation is a big injustice to the residents of Kabul."

He said the Interior Ministry's Support and Procurement Office, which agreed to pay for and organize the installation of the gates, had attempted to subcontract the work, but the bids were too high.

Now a similar body run by Kabul police has taken responsibility, but it also rejects accusations of dragging its feet.

"We understand it is our department that is responsible for the gates, but the government has to purchase the land first, and then we need a budget for it from donors," said Salem Almas, deputy chief of Kabul police.

Figuring out who is responsible for what in Kabul can be quite a challenge.

The chief of police comes under the authority of the Interior Ministry, but officials there have said he prefers to report to the National Security Council, a body answering directly to President Ashraf Ghani.

The fact that Afghan power is shared between Ghani and a chief executive and former political rival, Abdullah Abdullah, adds to the murkiness of reporting lines and decision-making.

Sediq Sediqqi, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said the feasibility study of the planned sites and training of personnel is complete.

"The Interior Ministry is on track to install the new security gates for Kabul, as it is one of its (most) important projects," he said, saying the gates will be installed in three to four months.

The security gates were part of a $13 million deal signed between China and Afghanistan in September 2012 called an Agreement of Economic and Technical Cooperation.

Fearing an Islamist insurgency may by stoked by fighters from Pakistan and Afghanistan, China has taken a keen interest in the Afghan conflict, but the country’s deteriorating security situation has hindered major investment plans in the mining sector.

"We are not familiar with the situation," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters at a regular briefing last week.

--Reporting by Hamid Shalizi for Reuters