By Hamid Shalizi
KABUL (Reuters) - A set of giant security gates financed by China and intended to protect Kabul from large bombs and drug smuggling lie stored in a warehouse more than five months after they arrived, while Afghan authorities bicker over who should install them.
Intended for the four main entry points into Kabul, they have been delayed by infighting between departments and by a land dispute, underlining the difficulty of getting things done in a country where conflict and corruption have slowed progress.
The hangar-style gates, each weighing around 30 tonnes, are to reinforce the so-called "Ring of Steel" that surrounds Kabul, a city of five million people already protected by blast walls, armed checkpoints and eye-in-the-sky surveillance cameras.
Although there are many entrances to the city, security officials believe channeling large vehicles through the gates could help reduce the risk of big truck and car bombs that have previously wrought devastation in Kabul.
The gates are to be equipped with control rooms and surveillance scanners to enhance inspections of vehicles.
Civilian deaths are rising across the country as Afghan Taliban insurgents fight to topple the Western-backed government and drive out foreign troops, while an offshoot of Islamic State has claimed responsibility for several attacks in the last year.
Not all are carried out by car or truck bombs, but in September a car bomb went off outside a central Kabul security office during rush hour, killing dozens of people.
"It shows that the ministry's different departments are sadly incapable of setting them (the new gates) up, and Kabul police is delaying them for no reason," said a senior Interior Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
"These gates are made with the latest technology, and delaying their installation is a big injustice to the residents of Kabul," the official added.
He said the Interior Ministry's Support and Procurement Office, which had agreed to pay for and organize the installation of the gates, had tried to subcontract the work, but the bids were too high.
Now responsibility has been transferred to a similar body run by Kabul police, who, in turn, rejects accusations that they have been dragging their feet.
"We understand it is our department that is responsible for the gates, but the government has to purchase the land first and then we need a budget for it from donors," said Salem Almas, deputy chief of Kabul police.
$13 MILLION DEAL
Sorting out exactly who is responsible for what in Kabul has proved a challenge.
The chief of police comes under the authority of the Interior Ministry, but officials there have said he prefers to report to the National Security Council, a body that answers directly to President Ashraf Ghani.
The fact that Afghan power is shared between Ghani and a chief executive and former political rival, Abdullah Abdullah, can add to the confusion of reporting lines and decision making.
Almas said the police chief understood and respected his reporting line to the interior ministry. A spokesman for the presidential palace declined to comment and referred questions to the interior ministry.
Sediq Sediqqi, spokesman for the interior ministry, said the feasibility study of the planned sites and training of personnel had been completed.
"The Ministry of Interior is on track to install the new security gates for Kabul, as it is one of its (most) important projects," Sediqqi said, adding that the gates will be installed within three to four months.
According to documents seen by Reuters, the security gates were part of a $13 million deal signed between China and Afghanistan in September, 2012, called an Agreement of Economic and Technical Cooperation.
China, which fears an Islamist insurgency may by stoked by fighters from Pakistan and Afghanistan, has taken a keen interest in the Afghan conflict, but major investment plans in the mining sector have been held back by deteriorating security.
The documents show that the security gates built by Chinese firm NUCTECH Co Ltd, in addition to 400 items of associated equipment including scanners and jammers, arrived in Kabul via neighboring Uzbekistan in eight shipping containers on July 2.
Twelve Chinese engineers worked for two months to assemble the parts for the security gates. Two Chinese engineers are still in Kabul, waiting for installation work to begin.
The company did not respond to questions.
"We are not familiar with the situation," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters at a regular briefing last week.
(Additional reporting by Christian Shepherd in BEIJING; Editing by Mike Collett-White)