Kabul protesters return to the streets - to clean them

Hazaras join effort to spruce up areas of capital damaged during their protests

Volunteers and workers clean up debris and damage from two days of protests in western Kabul on November 27, 2018. Hikmat Noori for The National
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Afghans regularly take to the streets of Kabul to vent their anger but this week the capital witnessed a rare spectacle: protesters helping to clear up the mess they created.

Hundreds of Shiite Hazaras demonstrated for two days in western Kabul after the arrest of a popular militia leader from the minority community. The protests subsided after the commander, Abdul Ghani Alipoor, was released on bail on Monday night, but not before clashes and shooting in which four civilians died, dozens of policemen were injured and at least six police posts vandalised.

On Tuesday morning, many of the protesters were among the hundreds of volunteers who turned out to clear the streets and repair the damage. Wearing orange high-visibility vests, they worked alongside policemen in their grey uniforms and kevlar vests to gather up debris from the protests. As some volunteers painted the cargo containers that serve as police checkposts, others repaired broken doors and windows, furniture and equipment.

“Today, we started cleaning Shaheed Mazari road and also started renovating the police checkposts,” said Mohammad Khalili, who took part in the protests on Sunday and Monday.

Mr Khalili is the director of Development Council of District 13, a civil society group in west Kabul which hired 325 workers for the clean-up. However, almost as many citizens showed up to help.

The people who damaged public property did not represent the larger protest, Mr Khalili said told The National.

“Those who participated in the protests didn’t do anything wrong. They used their civil rights to voice their views; but unfortunately, a few angry and emotional protesters set fire to police checkposts,” he said.

“Today we wanted to show that we are civilised and that our actions are civilised, and in respect of the constitution and the laws of Afghanistan.”


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For other volunteers, it was an opportunity to promote peace. “We thought it would a be good gesture to encourage the protesters to join hands in restoring the city,” said Enayatullah Hafeez, a volunteer and activist popularly known as Khadem-e-Millat, or “servant of the nation”.

Some Hazaras had gathered on the streets again on Tuesday morning, before Alipoor's release was confirmed. “We involved them too, to help with the cleaning,” Mr Hafeez said.

The Kabul municipality pitched in by providing the volunteers with gloves, vests and plastic bags, while private organisations and individuals offered to cover the costs of repair. “A local construction company offered to rebuild one of the checkposts that was badly damaged, at no cost, while another person offered to bear the cost of painting the checkposts,” Mr Hafeez said.

Mr Khalili said that more than anything, the clean-up drive was a show of solidarity with the police, an olive branch of sorts.

““We belong to each other. We feel that the checkposts belong to us and the police are here for our security and that is why we are putting all our resources into rebuilding them,” he said. “Our aim is to get the city back to normal.”