Inside Afghanistan: Guns, Guns, Guns

By Sadie Bass

Jan 12, 2010 11:04am

ABC's Stu Schutzman reports from Kabul: For an instant yesterday, I thought I literally walked into middle of a terrorist attack.  I entered the courtyard of our living quarters here in Kabul,  walled with concrete and barbed wire like most “compounds” here, innocently going to my room to get a phone charger.   Just as the armed guard slammed the steel door behind me, chaos erupted in the yard — five Afghans were pinned to one of the walls by screaming men brandishing automatic weapons.  For a moment I thought there was to be a mass execution.  It turned out to be nothing more than a training exercise conducted by the security company which owns the building.  Guns displayed in public in this part of the world are not usually reason for a second glance.  They’re everywhere.  “Many people feel obliged to keep guns for their personal safety,” says the Afghan Deputy Minister of Culture, “because of a lack of security.”   So-called security concerns in Afghanistan are as old as the considerable hills here. Lawlessness is part of the culture, and everyone seems to own at least one weapon.  Centuries ago, the Silk Road, the major trade route between Europe and Asia which passed right through here, helped eventually turned this place into the eastern version of the Wild West.   Today, there is a virtual arms race among the nearly 2,000 militias which abound in this country, all armed to the teeth.  The Northern Alliance alone, historically one of the most powerful militias, is still said to have more than 7,000 weapons. To fill the void created by inadequate police and courts, guns settle many disputes here, whether tribal, domestic or personal – and there is often little doubt who the winner is.  “Guns are the cause of all miseries in this country,” says a local village elder. There are some gun licensing laws on the books, most with little teeth. And there are movements afoot for serious gun control legislation — some here call it disarmament. But there is not much of a gun control debate here, at least as we know it.  Cultural change in this part of the world is glacial. “The vision of a gun free Afghanistan,” says the UN, “remains as elusive as ever.”  But the sight of a gun on the street here is generally no big deal… unless it’s pointed your way.

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