"Rogue Police" Complaints in Afghan North

Local forces raised without Kabul’s consent accused of abusing rather than protecting population.

"Rogue Police" Complaints in Afghan North

Local forces raised without Kabul’s consent accused of abusing rather than protecting population.

Allegations of abuses by locally-recruited security forces Afghanistan’s province of Balkh have raised questions about how law-enforcement units are raised, managed and held to account. 

The complaints centre on the Chahar Bulak district and its neighbour Chamtal, where confusion surrounds the exact status of units that purport to be police, but were raised by provincial governor Atta Mohammad Nur rather than the Afghan National Police, ANP.

Pahyanda, an elderly man looking for work in the main provincial city, Mazar-e Sharif, said he had been compelled to leave his home in Chahar Bulak because of harassment by these local police.

“I don’t know what they were – police or robbers,” he said. “They came every day and asked for food and moneys, and the time came when we had no choice but to get away. I'd had to give the local police all the money I had put away for the winter.”

Other allege that the police units are behaving like the paramilitary groups of the bad old days, serving as private armies for powerful figures, and that at least some of their members are actually drawn from the old militias.

“These are notorious individuals with a poor reputation,” local man Qurban Khan said.

Arif Mousawi, a journalist in Balkh province, said he was aware of dozens of people unable to return to their homes because they fear local policemen who behave like militia soldiers. In a country with a long history of internecine conflict, maverick units could easily be used to settle scores, he said.

While the populations of Chamtal and Chahar Bulak are largely Pashtun, the units– believed to total around 70 – were recruited from outsiders of other ethnicities.

Amir Jan Naseri, a local elder, said the ethnic factor was important to policing.

“If there are Taleban in Pashtun-dominated areas, then the police should be raised from the Pashtun living in those areas,” he said.

Chahar Bulak’s local government chief Amir Mohammad acknowledged the existence of a police unit in his district and said that while he was unhappy about it, it had been set up on orders from higher authority and he had no powers to dissolve it.

He said the force consisted of 45 men, some of whom had been armed by former commanders of Hezb-i Islami, a militia faction now allied with the Taleban.

In Kabul, the interior ministry, which has responsibility for the ANP, said it was unaware of the existence of units in Chahar Bulak and Chamtal.

Last August, the ministry announced the creation of the Afghan Local Police, an initiative to formalise the status of village defence forces that had emerged at grassroots initiatives in various parts of Afghanistan over previous months, and to establish a structure for commanding, arming and paying them under strict control of the ministry. (See Afghan Village Militias Accused of Abuses.)

Ministry spokesman Zmarai Bashari told IWPR a number of units totalling some 2,000 men had been set up in southern provinces and in Kunduz in the northeast, but not in Balkh.

“There’s been no authorisation to form a local police forces in Balkh province, and if they do exist, it’s contrary to what has been arranged,” he said.

General Ismat Alizai, the ANP commander for Balkh province, said no formal Afghan Police Force units had been formed, but he added that the governor of Balkh province, Atta Mohammad Nur, had armed some men.

Gul Rahman Hamdard, a local politician who opposes the governor, alleged that the units were being deployed to intimidate rivals rather than to deal with real security problems.

Pointing out that the Taleban were active in other parts of Balkh, he asked, “Why is the governor not sending his local police to those areas, instead of deploying them in Pashtun-dominated districts?”

The governor’s spokesman Munir Ahmad Farhad of Balkh province, insisted that the force existed to protect the public and enjoyed their support.

He said all the criticism was “propaganda from the enemies of peace and stability”.

“The governor will never let this province be destabilised, nor will he allow his men to make life hard for the people,” Farhad said.

Abdullah Khan, a former officer and now a defence analyst, said security agencies should be created solely on the orders of President Hamed Karzai, not of a local governor. Anything else, he said, was illegal.

“If there’s been no authorisation to establish a group, who’s supplying the arms and ammunition?” he asked. 

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