Just how dangerous it is to be a police officer in Afghanistan was brought home this week when the Interior Ministry released figures
showing that nearly 300 local and national police officers were killed in the span of just one month. That's a jump of 20 percent over the same period last year, as the Taliban stepped up attacks on Afghan security forces.
With risks like these, who would want to join the ranks of the police force? RFE/RL spoke to three police officers working in different parts of the country (none of whom wanted to be photographed for this story).
'ONE INCIDENT CHANGED MY LIFE'
Jan Muhammad, 31, Spin Boldak, Kandahar Province
"I've been serving as a police sergeant for the past three years in Spin Boldak, one of the most volatile areas in Kandahar. Military operations, witnessing deaths and injuries, and facing constant threats of roadside bombs have become an everyday reality for me.
"I grew up in neighboring Helmand Province, a province where insurgents have an active presence. Although there were several police officers in my extended family, I never dreamed of joining the force.
I will stay with the police force until peace returns to my country.
"Instead, I set up my own business selling fuel in a small shop, earning a living for my wife and two small kids, as well as my parents and younger siblings. However, one incident changed my life.
"There was a powerful explosion near my shop that killed many people. Before the attack happened, I was speaking to several people who had come for a family picnic to our village outside the city of Lashkargah. Eating outdoors is one of the very few ways to have a good time here. Minutes later, all of them were killed.
"After this, I just ran home and asked my mother's permission to join the police. In a short period of time I learned how to use weapons.
"I’m a deeply religious person, and there were many times where I would question my own decision.
"Once, alongside my commander, I heard an intercept of Taliban militants' communication. They were talking, calling policemen 'infidels.' They were talking about religious values. It was one of the moments where I had doubts whether I was on the right path.
"The following day, we staged an operation against them. Some of them ran away and went inside a house full of women. Later, we discovered several of the militants were hiding among the women, wearing women’s clothes.
"Seeing that, I realized that there is a huge difference between what the militants say and what they do. I never looked back after that.
"The Taliban say they are fighting against foreigners. But when they first came to Afghanistan 20 years ago, there were no Americans or infidels in our country. But the Taliban killed so many people. They were all Afghans.
"I will stay with the police force until peace returns to my country. Peace for me means when Afghans can go to school, to work, and to bazaars without facing the risk of being killed. I want to get better training in a police academy, preferably abroad, and come back to serve my country."
'THE RISK OF DEATH IS EVERYWHERE'
Nasrullah Qutbuddin, 45, Kabul
"I have been working for the Afghan police force for over two decades.
"I take pride in wearing the uniform as people treat the men in uniform with respect. Besides, it's a well-paid job. Starting salaries for young police officers are nearly $300 a month, which is a reasonably good salary here.
"On paper, my ordinary working day lasts from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., and I have a few night shifts every week. However, as a police officer you feel you are on duty 24 hours. They can call on you at any time of the day or night, and dispatch you to any area.
You have to get used to losing colleagues and witnessing people getting killed and injured.
"Once our unit was surrounded during a military operation in Ghazni city. I got wounded there. Eventually, we returned to Kabul and I received treatment for several months. It permanently damaged my leg.
"I consider myself very lucky that so far I've survived with only one injury. So many of my colleagues have lost their lives during operations or to bomb attacks.
"It's so sad you have to get used to losing colleagues and witnessing people getting killed and injured. It's 'normal' in my line of work.
"I understand that insurgents have vowed to attack policemen everywhere they can. I understand it's a high-risk job. But the risk of death is now everywhere in Afghanistan. People get killed on their way to school.
"My mother and my wife tell me to leave the force and find a job where I'm at least not a direct target, singled out for killing because of my profession.
"I don't have any affiliation with any political force. I was a police officer during the communist government, the mujahedin rule, and now, under the new government. For me, it's not about the government but about serving people.
"If the Taliban return to power through an election or some other legitimate way, and bring peace to this country, I don't mind that. I will work for any legitimate government that is accepted by the people."
'I'VE SEEN A LOT OF BLOOD'
Zalmai Sayeed, 53, Kandahar
"Working for the police has been a family tradition for three generations, but working in this profession has never been as dangerous as it is now.
"The advantage of the job is that you feel people rely on you; they feel safer when you're around.
"I trust in the ability of the Afghan police to defeat our enemies. We are better trained and better equipped than a few years ago.
Nothing is more devastating than seeing a child who has just lost a limb to a land mine.
"I work in one of the most unstable areas, and unfortunately, I’ve seen a lot of blood and many deaths. I have carried dead and injured colleagues from scenes of fighting.
"A few days ago, a bomb exploded some 10 meters from where I was standing. Three of my colleagues were killed and two were injured in the incident.
"But nothing is more devastating than seeing a child who has just lost a limb to a land mine. I felt so helpless when I was carrying such a child to the hospital.
"One of the biggest dangers in our work is that now you don't always know where the threats come from. There are more and more incidents where people in police uniform attack security forces.
"There was at least one incident recently where several acquaintances of policemen on duty visited them at a checkpoint and killed all their hosts
and escaped in a police vehicle. After such incidents, commanders prohibited officers from hosting friends and acquaintances in duty stations.
"After a few years of working for the police in a conflict zone, you get used to the dangers and you stop having nightmares. I don't know exactly if you lose your fear or if you just feel that as a policeman you have no moral right to show your fear because people look up to you.
"I am determined to stay with the force until the end. After so many years with the police, I know I will still be a target for militants even if I leave the job."