In death, he has become a poster child for an unlikely crisis in an unlikely place.
In this modern city far from the battlefields, the growing epidemic of abductions has raised a troubling question about Afghanistan’s future: What if eradicating the insurgency only creates space for a new generation of criminal networks?
Last year, nearly 500 people in Herat were arrested on kidnapping charges, compared with about a dozen five years ago, according to Afghan officials. Perpetrators asked for millions in ransom, targeting the families of industrialists, politicians and bankers, who typically remain quiet about the cases and often flee the country after they are resolved.
Other relatively peaceful parts of the country, including Kabul and Jalalabad, also have experienced a surge in abductions that weak police forces have been unable to stem, causing top U.S. and Afghan officials to worry about a threat to stability as insidious as any insurgency but with financial, not ideological, objectives.
The trend has been particularly alarming in Herat, Afghanistan’s third-largest city, which has been a relative haven as war raged in other parts of the nation over the past decade. Cross-border trade with Iran and Turkmenistan and a thriving marble industry — as well as distance from the insurgency’s southern and eastern strongholds — have aided Herat’s prosperity since the fall of the Taliban, in 2001. Its economy, with more than 20 percent annual growth over most of the past decade, has outpaced that of every other Afghan city.
Today, the city that led an early revolt against a communist government in the late 1970s is unmistakably progressive by Afghan standards, with women driving unaccompanied along leafy avenues and quiet parks full of picnicking families.
Police investigations have yielded little insight into the character of the kidnapping networks that are plaguing Herat. There are mixed views about whether they are vast, well-connected enterprises or small-scale operations. Some Afghan officials contend that part of the ransoms end up in the hands of the Taliban, hundreds of miles away. Others say high-level government officials are involved.
The only consensus is that the crime spree has been a blow to growth and security in Herat, which U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns praised last year for its “considerable economic potential.”
“These are crimes that undermine the legitimacy of the government and could even lead to its toppling,” Abdul Raziq Nejrabi, the head of Herat’s national security tribunal, which deals with kidnapping cases, said of the city and provincial administrations.