Police Extortion Fears

The authorities’ refusal to pay hundreds of Kabul policemen has prompted some to extort money from locals.

Police Extortion Fears

The authorities’ refusal to pay hundreds of Kabul policemen has prompted some to extort money from locals.

Policemen who haven’t been paid for months are demanding money from ordinary Kabulis in order to make a living.

Around 1,500 members of the city’s police force haven’t received their salaries for more than nine months, and some are using threats and violence against locals to get cash as well as free goods and services.

Many Kabulis are now expressing fears that unless the problem is resolved soon, more unpaid officers will resort to this sort of extortion.

The officers are mainly former Northern Alliance soldiers who came to the capital following the collapse of the Taleban regime. As the city’s police force had been disbanded when the mujahedin seized Kabul in 1992, these fighters assumed responsibility for keeping order.

But the authorities say many were never officially hired, and are not prepared to pay them, even though they’ve been working for nearly a year.

Sameullah, an officer in the city’s fourth police district, told IWPR, "We have not been paid since we came to Kabul. All we’ve received is one million afghanis – 25 US dollars – as a bonus for the Muslim festival of Eid.”

Some militiamen feel there’s a political motive behind the wage freeze. They suspect that some in government don’t like them because they are so closely associated with the Northern Alliance – and calculate that Kabulis wouldn’t be too upset about their treatment as they’re blamed for much of the destruction in the city.

"We have 200 policemen who have not been paid, and they are all mujahedin from the Northern Alliance. These people fought the Taleban for five years and helped to usher in this new government,” said chief of the second police district Abdul Wahid Shareefi. “The authorities want to disgrace the mujaheds, and they know that if they are not paid they will go on to commit crimes such as bribery, robbery and looting.”

"We helped to save our country from the Taleban. If we don’t get our salary, we will be forced to take bribes simply to get enough money to live on," said one officer, who did not want to be named.

The threat of corruption is a very real, as members of the militia are already being accused of extortion.

Safiullah, a shopkeeper in the city's biggest bazaar, told IWPR that the police demand money from him every week. "All the officials know about this, but if the officers were paid, they would not try to take money from us poor people," he said.

Street-seller Mohammad Gul, another victim of the extortion racket, grumbled, "If we don't pay them, they will stop us from selling our goods here - and they will beat us."

One taxi driver, who would not give his name, said that when he asks policemen for the fare, they say, "We have not received our salary for nine months. We are providing a service to you." If he insists on being paid, he says he’s beaten or insulted.

"Most of our militiamen are headstrong young boys who will attack you if you try to challenge them. If they don’t get their money soon, the situation will only get worse," he added.

Officers have become so demoralised that many are threatening to leave the force. Chief of the first police district Mirza Mohammed Saifi said, "I would like to warn the interior ministry that these policemen will walk out. This will have a negative effect on Afghan security."

Kabul police chief Abdul Baseer Salangi refused to discuss the issue with IWPR and referred the matter to his headquarters.

There, an official, who did not want to be named, confirmed around 1,450 officers have not received their salaries, but claimed that the majority had not been appointed by the interior ministry and were in any case not old enough for the job. “Most of them are young boys,” he said, adding that their number always swells when salaries are due to be paid.

The official said the officers would only be paid on the orders of the interior ministry. IWPR attempted to clarify the situation with the latter, but officials there refused to comment despite a series of visits and written requests.

The authorities announced in March this year that around 29,000 new police officers would be trained and employed in and around the city, but there is still no indication as to when this will happen.

Chief of the second police district Abdul Wahid Shareefi said, “This cannot continue. If the interior ministry does not want these officers, they should staff and train a new police force for the city.”

Habibul Rehman Ibrahimi is a Kabul-based freelance journalist

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