Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Reforming Police Will Take Time

Although training programmes are currently under way, it may take years to restore public confidence in the police.
By Shahabuddin Terakhel

Samia, 21, sits in a classroom surrounded by 19 men. Dressed in a green uniform, her Western-styled trousers belted around her waist and her hair tied in a bun beneath her green police hat, she is part of a quiet revolution.

She is one of only 14 women officer cadets among the 12,000 officers currently receiving training in professional policing techniques at the Kabul Police Academy.

"I am ready to fight for my country," she said. "I am very happy among my classmates. They are all Afghans and so am I."

After the fall of the Taleban in 2001, the interim Afghan government and the United Nations asked Germany to take the lead role in training and reforming the nation's police force. The Germans have longstanding links with Afghanistan's police, having operated the training academy there in the early Seventies.

With security a paramount concern in advance of an election scheduled for late September, the aim is for 20,000 policemen - 8,000 officers and 12,000 street police officers - to have benefited from at least initial professional training by then.

Achieving police reform is a challenge, says the German ambassador to Afghanistan, Dr. Hans-Joachim Vergau. Among the obstacles to be overcome are the absence of a central register of police officers, the lack of identity cards for police officers and the collapse of the nation's judicial system.

Dr. Vergau adds that many police are not paid on time because the country has no banking infrastructure.

While many cadets at the academy spoke enthusiastically about the training, one who declined to give his name spoke bluntly about the pay situation. "Training by international trainers [is] useless unless our salaries are increased," he said.

This trainee said his expenses are about 200 US dollars a month, or about 10,000 afghanis, while his salary is just 140 dollars, or 7,000 afghanis. He said he believes that police officers will continue to take bribes until their salaries are increased.

The trainee also said that in some district police departments, the policemen themselves are criminals, and the majority of them are uneducated and linked to previous governments.

Major General Mohammad Musa Nayemi Wardak, the president of the academy, conceded that since 1992, "lots of uneducated and inexperienced people representing various mujahedin groups have signed up with the Afghan police", but he insisted that "police linked to previous regimes will be fired – and new, trained police will take their place".

It may take years, however, for the average citizen to regain confidence in police officers.

"The police were trained to rob for two decades and even if they were trained for 10 years, it would be useless," said Elham, 40, of Kabul.

Sher Zaman, 30, a street vendor in Kabul, explained how he has to pay a portion of his profits to a police officer in order to be allowed to work by the side of the road. "There are 200 of us selling things on the street and everyone has to pay 20 cents to the police and the same amount to the traffic police," he said.

In addition to Germany, the United States and other countries are also providing training programmes for police officers.

The Germans operate a five-year programme, which consists of cadets alternating between a year at the academy and a year in the field. They also offer a one-year training course for junior officers - who will complete three months’ training before the election, and return afterwards for a further nine months.

The United States is running training for street and traffic police. These include a series of short courses based in Kabul at a Central Training Centre, including an eight-week basic course, a four-week instructor development course, a four-week course for illiterate policemen and a two-week refresher course.

Eight-week courses are also offered in training centres across the country, in Gardez, Kandahar, Kunduz and Mazar-e-Sharif. Similar courses are due to start soon in Herat and Bamian.

Some observers have expressed scepticism about the value of short training programmes, calling them a "numbers game".

But a US official said the number of police to be trained by September comes from a request from the Afghan government - and that is based on the force needed to provide safe and secure elections.

Ali Jan Askaryar, the head of the seventh district police department in Kabul city, said 40 of his men have already been through the training programme.

He said he wants to see an end to corruption but admits that it will take time. He said his officers were making it clear to people in their district that anyone caught giving a bribe to police will be punished and the policeman will be fired.

One resident of the seventh district said he could see that the "police of previous regimes were inexperienced and did what they like". Now, he said, the police have been getting better. He said he believed training is important for Afghanistan's security.

Ultimately, the target agreed upon between the Afghan government and international community is for 50,000 Afghan National Police, ANP, and 12,000 border police to be fully trained by 2005.

But even Dr. Vergau believes that the deadline is too ambitious and will not be achieved. "I believe it will be during 2006," he said.

Shahabuddin Terakhelis a staff reporter with IWPR in Kabul.

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