Business Standard

Afghanistan isn't safer than Chicago


AP Islamabad
President Donald Trump ripped Chicago as a hellscape of violence that makes Afghanistan, one of the world's deadliest countries for terrorism, seem like a tranquil and secure place.
It's not true. More people died by violent means in Afghanistan in one month than died from murders in Chicago in a year.
The US president has long sought to hold up America's third-largest city as the poster child of urban violence and dysfunctional Democratic politics, even when his assertions don't square with the facts. He's called it a war zone in the past.
A look at his claim Monday during a gathering of police chiefs in Chicago: TRUMP, on murders in Chicago in recent years: "It's embarrassing to us as a nation. All over the world, they're talking about Chicago. Afghanistan is a safe place by comparison." THE

Few direct comparisons exist of killings in Afghanistan, with a population of 38 million, and the city of Chicago, which has 2.7 million. It's true that Afghanistan's homicide rate per 100,000 was listed as 7.1 in 2017, lower than Chicago's rate of 20.7 per 100,000 in 2018.
But that statistic doesn't capture the danger of living in Afghanistan. It does not, for example, count the dead from war.
Afghanistan has no well-trained police force to investigate in a consistent way if a death was a homicide, accident or a mistake. Many other killings might not be recorded at all. Outside the major cities, no statistics of homicides are even compiled.
Danger comes from all directions and in many guises in Afghanistan.
In the last two weeks, for instance, an attack believed to have been carried out by an Islamic State affiliate killed 62 people and wounded more than 100 who were assaulted as they prayed; the Taliban stormed a checkpoint in northern Afghanistan, killing at least 15 policemen in the latest attack by insurgents; a Taliban suicide attack targeted a convoy carrying officials from the country's intelligence service, killing five people including a child in eastern Nangarhar province; and Pakistani mortar and rocket fire into Afghanistan killed three women in eastern Kunar province.
At the peak of Afghanistan's most recent war, which began with the U.S.-led invasion to topple the Taliban in 2001, more than 150,000 soldiers battled an insurgent force that today holds sway in roughly 50% of the country and is at its strongest since 2001. Adding to the dangers is the growth of a brutal Islamic State affiliate that is expanding its footprint and drawing fighters driven from Syria and Iraq.
Kabul, the nation's capital, is divided into zones, the more secure areas in a so-called green zone, protected by what is called a ring of steel. Yet suicide truck bombs have been able to enter, killing scores of people.
Giant cement blast walls tower over entire neighborhoods, and armed guards stand on most corners of the green zone. Convoys of tanks and armored personnel carriers routinely rumble through the capital.
Outside the capital, in some districts of the country, insurgents rule, even establishing their own courts. A multimillion-dollar highway built by the United States linking Kabul to southern Kandahar is too treacherous for foreigners to travel. For locals, it is a risky route thick with thieves and insurgents who routinely stop, search and rob travelers.
In addition to murders from crimes unrelated to war, the BBC this year found 2,307 people died in Afghanistan in 611 violent "security incidents" such as armed clashes, airstrikes and explosions, in August alone. Those 2,307 deaths in one month probably an undercount are far higher than the number of homicides in Chicago for an entire year.
In 2016, Chicago recorded more than 760 homicides, its worst year in nearly two decades. Last year, homicides claimed more than 560 people.

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First Published: Oct 31 2019 | 8:00 PM IST

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