Afghan Police Accused of Highway Abuses

Drivers say officers harass them and extort money, instead of making the roads safer.

Afghan Police Accused of Highway Abuses

Drivers say officers harass them and extort money, instead of making the roads safer.

Afghan police who stop and check vehicles are often more concerned with extorting bribes than with heading off insurgent attacks.

Police checkpoints are there to identify suspicious activity on the roads, from insurgent movements to arms smuggling. But the picture painted by speakers at IWPR debates in south and east Afghanistan was more like an extortion racket.

“On our roads, the security forces’ only job should be to search for weapons and prevent smuggling,” writer and journalist Mohammad Asif Shinwari told a debate in Jalalabad, the main city in the eastern Nangarhar region. “They also issue fines to the drivers of vehicles with questionable documents, but instead of transferring the money to the treasury, they keep it themselves.”

At a debate in the western town of Farah, councillor Sayed Ahmad Khan said that “the people who conduct searches on the roads should be specially trained, so that their actions don’t aggravate the public.”

Akbar Sher, an advisor to Nangarhar’s provincial governor, acknowledged some of the concerns about traffic enforcement, but insisted that police must “target the insurgents and criminals who are a threat to security on the roads and in the cities”.

Sher was asked by a female audience member how the police were coping with the risk of insurgents disguising themselves in burkas to get through checkpoints. Only female officers are allowed to frisk women, and there are not enough of them. He admitted this was a problem.

“People in our community don’t want their sisters and mothers to join the police. That creates a shortage, so that our officers are unable to search women for reasons of modesty, and have to let them go through without a check,” he said. Nonetheless, he said, “Nangarhar police have so far arrested 17 suspected militants who were wearing women’s clothing.”

At another debate held in the Muqur district of Ghazni, a province midway between Nangarhar and Kabul, participants said the police’s behaviour was alienating the local population.

“If the laws were implemented properly, these problems would be resolved,” civil society activist Naqibullah Hamidi said.

Defence expert Wati Khan Andir said checks on vehicles were essential, and pointed out that officials in cars with tinted windows did not get stopped.

“The government is unable to implement its search policy in a consistent manner because vehicles with blacked-out windows sail through checkpoints without being searched,” he said.

The same point was made by Shinwari, who said that because officials had permission to have tinted windows, police felt unable to stop them.

Muqur district’s deputy police chief Juma Khan Tasal said there were was no point trying to change this unless central government policy changed.

“If blacked-out vehicles are not banned in Kabul, then a ban will never work in the provinces,” he said.

This report is based on an ongoing series of debates conducted as part of IWPR’s Afghan Youth and Elections programme.

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