SHOLGARA — There have been so many police chiefs in the district of Sholgara in recent years that the people who live in this granitoid bowl of smooth mountains tapering toward the Balkh river valley in a mellow polychrome of fields have forgotten to count them. All that anyone can tell you is that Captain Ghawsuddin Tufal has been chief of Sholgara police for five months.
Who knows how long he will last?
The Taliban is not known to operate in Sholgara, but someone claiming to be a member of the Islamist militia has already called his cell phone twice to threaten to kill him if he doesn't quit. To protect a population of 100,000 he has a police force of 45 men. And three cars. And a sole police station on the edge of downtown Sholgara: a gravel-strewn compound suffocating in the sun where the men, wrapped in impressive bandoliers of 7.62 rounds, stand and squat along low walls all day, swatting at flies, while the chief chain-smokes in his tiny office.
The couches that clutter the room exhale puffs of dust every now and then, as though the captain's lungs and the furniture's upholstery are somehow connected.
Has he mentioned -- he inquires between drags -- that he receives absolutely no money to pay for gas for the police cars? When someone calls the cops, he pays out of his own pocket. Some villages are 30 miles away from the police station. Captain Tufal's monthly paycheck is $400; a gallon of gas costs about $3.60.
The 120 villages in his charge are a dizzying kaleidoscope of ethnicities, political alliances, family and village feuds so old that the sides cannot quite remember how they started. There is a lot of bad blood here; there is a lot of spilled blood. In the last three decades, everyone has fought everyone in Sholgara: The mujaheddin fought the Soviets; the Tajiks fought the Uzbeks; the Hazaras fought the Pashtuns; the Taliban fought the Northern Alliance; various Northern Alliance warlords fought each other.
The fighting continues today: A few months ago, in the riverside village of Siaub, one former anti-Taliban warlord killed another. Provincial police drove down from Mazar-e-Sharif to arrest him; five days later, the prosecutors set him free.
"Let's put it this way: He has powerful supporters," Captain Tufal says, tweezing another cheap Korean cigarette out of the pack. "If I were to arrest him, I wouldn't last a day. This is Afghanistan, not America."