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City of guards

by Aida Azarnoush


A loud bang rattles Kabul. Shots ring out. Amanullah listens for a moment, but then a smile lightens up his bearded face. “It’s far away,” he says, “we don’t need to be bothered. But you should better stay inside.”

He says “far away”, but he is actually talking about an incident a few blocks away. Amanullah is a security guard – one of many. In the unsafe Afghani capital Kabul, hardly any international organisation could work without local security staff. They do their job unarmed, but with profound local knowledge and composure.

Armed assaults and bomb attacks in Afghanistan made the figure of Afghani civilian dead rise to a new record high. According to the UN mission Unama, 3,700 civilians were killed in 2014 – almost all of them were Afghans. Many attacks, though, were actually aimed at foreigners.

Since 2001, when the Taliban regime was overthrown by international troops, countless international organisations are present in Afghanistan to support the reconstruction of the country. At present, thousands of foreign advisers work in this country, particularly in Kabul.

In order to make the implementation of projects in these unsafe surroundings possible at all, a number of measures are needed – including high walls, visual covers and barbed wire. Crucially important are reliable, local security guards. They receive visitors, control their identities and search their bags. Since the use of credit cards is limited in Afghanistan,  money is brought to the country in cash and stashed somewhere. In private homes, the guard is a trusted person, who – in the absence of the residents – takes care of all their belongings. And of course, they also trust him with their lives. The most important criterion for choosing a guard is reliability.  

Guarding foreigners is a coveted job. Watchmen are paid very well by Afghani standards. “I’m the main breadwinner in our family,” says 25-year-old Amanullah. “Apart from my studies at university, I work nightshifts as a guard at this house, where three foreigners live.”

A teacher in Afghanistan earns the equivalent of around $ 100 per month, a security guard in a private home of foreigners often makes twice as much or even more. Many Afghans benefit from the manifold job opportunities as guards.

Watchman Esmail is from eastern Afghanistan. He sees his wife and children only every other week, when he visits his village. He is happy to feed his extended family with his income, but his greatest desire is peace. Even if that would mean fewer job opportunities for  guards.

“No more shooting,” Esmail indicates a while after having taken over the shift from Amanullah. “You can come back to the garden.”


Aida Azarnoush is a journalist and works for a development organisation in Afghanistan. She is currently based in Germany.
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