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Institute for War & Peace Reporting, June 6, 2006

Afghan police part of the problem

Corruption in the law-enforcement service has become so endemic that a provincial governor has decided to speak out.

By Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi in Mazar-e-Sharif for IWPR

Corruption is a growth industry for Afghanistan's police. They stand accused of extorting money from drug smugglers, gun runners, brothel owners and gamblers, in return for looking the other way. Those who refuse to pay can be arrested as part of an apparently virtuous clean-up campaign, and then released once they hand over the cash.

The bribery and corruption surrounding the police force are just a fact of life for most Afghans. But it still came as something of a shock when the governor of the northern Balkh province took the region's law officers to task.

"Corruption increases day by day," thundered governor Atta Mohammad Noor, addressing police chiefs and rank-and-file officers in the provincial capital Mazar-e-Sharif last month. "You are partners with gamblers, bandits, brothels, alcohol dealers and even pickpockets.

A US military Humvee speeds away under a hail of stones thrown by protestors in Kabul, Afghanistan
RAWA: Afghan police is accused of having links with those who misused people's demonstration in Kabul on May 29, 2006 to turn it to violence.

"The criminals who are your partners are able to operate freely. The only ones who get arrested are those who are not your associates - and even they get released after paying bribes."

The governor said high-level corruption in the police force meant that the Balkh authorities were unable to provide security for residents.

He acknowledged that much of the new Afghan National Police is made up of former mujahedin, the forces who fought and ultimately triumphed over the Soviet invaders.

Atta, a former leading militia commander himself, said it was partly out of respect for their past record that he had been reluctant to remove them. "But if things keep going this way, I will not support anyone any more," he warned.

Human Rights Watch, the United States-based watchdog, issued a statement in early May calling on President Hamed Karzai to stop appointing known human rights abusers as law-enforcement officers.

"At least four of the current candidates for provincial police chief were barred from standing as candidates in last year's parliamentary elections for having links to illegal militias," said the Human Rights Watch report. "Other potential appointees are known human rights abusers, warlords, and drug-traffickers. Several of the candidates have been implicated in murder, torture, intimidation, bribery, government corruption, and interfering with police investigations."

The Afghan president is currently in the process of shifting district-level police chiefs, in some cases bringing in new blood and in others simply shifting people around, in a practice that has become characteristic of his appointments policy.

In response to the governor's criticism, Balkh police chief Khan Mohammad Mojahed promised to spare no effort to clean up his administration and ensure better security in the province.

His spokesman, Shir Jaan Durani, defended the police, telling IWPR, "Just because a few policemen may be involved with criminals does not mean they are all corrupt."

"At least four of the current candidates for provincial police chief were barred from standing as candidates in last year’s parliamentary elections for having links to illegal militias."
"... Kabul’s police chief, Jamil Jumbish, has been implicated in murder, torture, intimidation, bribery and interfering with investigations into misconduct by officers directly under his control."
HRW, May 4, 2006

But many Afghans would say the ratio of corrupt to honest police does not bode well for the country's security. Nor is the problem limited to Balkh.

"More than 90 per cent of the police are corrupt," said a Kabul businessman, interviewed while visiting Mazar-e-Sharif on a buying trip. "Last year my shop in Kabul was robbed. After the robbery I found the identity card of one of the local police in my shop. When I brought it to the police station, the commander took it off me, and warned me not to tell anyone or else my life would be at risk."

Mazar-e-Sharif resident Mohammad Rasul recalled how the police failed in their duties when armed robbers broke into his neighbor's house in late March, "The robbers came at one in the morning and we called the police. They didn't come for an hour, by which time the robbers had already killed a member of the family and fled."

The owner of the house managed to detain one of the thieves, and handed him over to the police, said Rasul. But the man was released after a few days.

"The police are protecting robbers as they steal," said Rasul.

Law enforcement officials argue that much has been done to improve the situation since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001. Over the past four and a half years, police academies have been established in all of Afghanistan's main provinces. International trainers from the United States, Britain, and Germany have been working with the Afghan police to improve their performance.

Police from the five northern provinces get their training at the Mazar-e-Sharif police academy, where they receive basic lessons in policing, human rights, penal law and traffic regulations.

"We cannot compare today's police with yesterday's," said Colonel Sayed Alam, head of the academy. "There has been a remarkable change in police structure."

Those who can read and write are trained for five weeks, he said, while those who are illiterate receive a nine-week course. Kabul police chief, Amanullah Guzar... was appointed by Karzai. Documents circulating among diplomats allegedly link him to extortion, land grabbing and the kidnapping of three UN workers in late 2004.
The Guardian, June 13, 2006

According to an official at the interior ministry, which controls the police, the Bonn agreement, which underpinned Afghanistan's post-2001 development, stipulated that the national police force should number 62,000. As of March 2006, over 57,000 had been trained, with the rest due to graduate by September.

But Afghans brush aside the notion that trained police are any improvement over the old force.

"We have seen no difference between trained and untrained police," said Niaz Mohammad, from Sar-e-Pul province. "They are all just as bad."

"I find it funny when I hear that the national police are being trained," said the Kabul businessman. "They can train them one thousand times but they'll still be robbers."

Analysts tend to agree, saying that despite the best efforts of the international community, the police system is riddled with corruption and nepotism.

"The police are local militia commanders and members who have just changed their clothes," said Mohammad Aalam Rahmani, a political analyst in Mazar-e-Sharif. "Now they will do robberies and looting wearing police uniforms."

But an interior ministry official who did not want to be named insisted that things were getting better.

"In a country like Afghanistan which has just emerged from crisis, the police may not have the same capacity as those in developed countries," he said. "But at least we do now have police, and they will get better day by day."

The official pointed to the presidential and parliamentary elections, saying that the police succeeded in ensuring security during these tense and difficult periods. "That is one of their major accomplishments," he said.

A policeman trained at the Balkh police academy accepted that corruption was common among his colleagues, but he pointed to the low salaries they get paid as the major cause. Most police make between US$50 and US$70 per month.

"The training has nothing to do with stamping out corruption," he said. "Both trained and untrained police are fond of money. Salaries are too low, so police prefer money to law enforcement. They too have to make a living."

This article originally appeared in Afghan Recovery Report, produced by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR). Afghan Recovery Report is supported by the UK Foreign Office and the US State Department.

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