In a recent survey conducted in Afghanistan, almost no one mentioned the police when asked to whom they would turn for help when in trouble. Experts say Afghan police lack professionalism and effectiveness and in some cases are responsible for human rights violations. The Afghan Interior Ministry says some $380 million will be needed over the next four years to reform the institution.
Prague, 22 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Afghanistan's 50,000 police are seen as an underpaid and ill-equipped force not capable of carrying out its duties.
During a press conference last week, Afghan Interior Minister Aliahmad Jalali acknowledged the problem, saying the ministry needs additional funds for reform. "We have a problem with quality, not with the quantity. We do not have a shortage of police workers. But we lack trained, qualified police personnel and the equipment and resources they need to carry out their job," Jalali said.
Both local and international observers note that Afghan police face shortages of everything from uniforms to vehicles and communication facilities. Some police stations in the provinces even lack pens and paper to record incidents.
The Afghan police system does not function as a united and coordinated force. Most of the police personnel were recruited from the mujahedin -- the former guerrilla fighters who remain loyal to their local and regional commanders, rather than to the central government. The mujahedin have vast military experience but lack professional police training.
Rights activists, such as Mohammad Farid Hamidi from the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, say the mujahedin, accustomed to acting with impunity, now are failing to fulfill their duties as a civilian police force.
"The Afghan police often confuse police duties with military functions," Hamidi said. "Many mujahedin who have been incorporated into the police force brought a militiaman's mentality to the police system. Fortunately, the new government wants to change that. It wants to reform the police institution."
Basir Solangi, the head of security forces in the capital, Kabul, told RFE/RL the lack of professional training is especially visible among police in the provinces. "The police in Kabul are different from the police in the provinces. Most of the police personnel in Kabul are professionally trained. As soon as the new government was set up, they registered themselves at the Interior Ministry. The ministry sent some of the professional police officers to the provinces, but most of them stayed here in Kabul," Solangi said.
Rights activists say this lack of professional skills and training is behind the human rights violations committed by Afghan police. Most officers are not aware of international human rights standards on policing.
Margaret Ladner is the head of the Kabul office of Amnesty International, the London-based human rights watchdog. Ladner said that rather than protecting people, Afghan police sometimes commit human rights violations, such as torture and arbitrary arrests.
"Common methods of torture include beating with an electric cable or metal bar, electric shock, and hanging detainees from the ceiling by their arms, sometimes for several days," Ladner said.
Sayeed Ishroq Husseini, the head of the Department of Political and Religious Affairs at the Afghan Interior Ministry, told RFE/RL that a human rights department has been established at the ministry to deal with human rights violations in the police system. The Norwegian government is sending a special team to develop human rights training at the Kabul Police Academy.
"I don't deny that some police officers in provinces torture detainees," Husseini said. "But today we are discussing the reforms in the police system. We will eliminate torture and all other lawlessness in the system."
Afghan police are also often accused of corruption, bribery, and extortion. Amnesty International says many detainees were offered their freedom in return for large sums of money. According to the group, poor salaries are a contributing factor to such corruption. High-ranking officers receive around $40 a month, while lower-level personnel take home only slightly more than $15 a month.
Afghan authorities insist the reconstruction of the country's police force is a difficult task and will take years to complete. But ordinary Afghans say changes are needed now. A Kabul resident told RFE/RL on condition of anonymity that Afghans mistrust the police and see them as servants of warlords and the state, not as a force that protects society.
"We are not happy with the ill treatment of people by the Kabul police. They treat you according to your ethnic background. The Afghan police have to be taught how to serve people, how to respect people's rights. I am afraid of the Afghan police. They don't even know have to behave properly. I recently witnessed an armed clash among several policemen in an area close to the American Embassy," the Kabul resident said.
As the authorities continue their efforts at reform, ordinary Afghans will continue to see police as a force that should be feared, not trusted, until experience convinces them otherwise.