Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Monday, June 17th, 2019

Afghan Police Needs to Spell out its Doctrine and International Support Needs to be Afghanized


Afghan Police Needs to Spell out its Doctrine and  International Support Needs to be Afghanized

After collapse of Taliban in 2001, the state building started in Afghanistan. Police in Afghanistan started taking new shape. Before Taliban, Afghanistan had limited functional state institutions, including police but continued insurgency and Taliban regime crippled them. Those institutions were not strong enough to withstand the regime change as they were not based upon constitutionalism, continuity and institutional strengths of state pillars: legislature, executives and judiciary and, of course the media as the 4thpillar signifying the freedom of expression.
After 2001, with the changes in Kabul, the new government started building police as the national institution. Mostly followers of local elites, largely militia of local leaders, were inducted in police. These happen in most of the post conflict societies and Afghan is not an exception. Only difference is that it happened at many places in almost all the regions and thus the local power structure remained intact. This power structure was of the alliance partners, mainly Northern Alliance. Their members got more weapons and ammunition and also state resources and legitimacy. Later, they were dressed in police uniforms. Power structure of each region in Afghanistan is unique with different reasons of conflict.
Security sector reform was envisaged as early as in April 2002 and five independent pillars were created each with an appointed lead nation. These were: Military reform (USA), police reform (Germany), judicial reform (Italy), counternarcotics (UK), and disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (Japan). It was an optimistic dream where large world economies took responsibilities of sectors crucial for peace, security and stability.
Primarily, it was a re-establishment of security system in the country rather than reforming it. There was new governance and new Constitution and so all new state apparatus with no linkages with Taliban form of governance. Taliban’s governance was very rudimentary and fundamentalist. No one thought that Afghanistan needed to develop its system of governance matching to its rich culture reflecting in its history, calligraphy and literature rather than alien new models. Era of confusion started since its inception. Taliban dissipated among the same people where they belonged and the moment they found space, they re-emerged.
Now, after 17 years where are we? Peak in opium production, massive narco-economy within Afghanistan - almost equivalent to national budget of USD 6 billion, almost 42% of territory either contested or under Taliban, insurgency, terrorism, weapons flow, organized crimes, kidnappings and abductions, corruption and possible sanctuaries for ISIS/ Da’esh are the reality. Although security sector reform is the basic prerequisite to recreate the nations, as the then President Karzai announced in a conference on security sector reform in 2003 but functional capacity of police still remains a distant reality.
Over the period, police reform did not remain as the exclusive domain of Germany but many international partners came forward to support it. Two approaches one influenced by Resolute Support (RS) and USA and other by EU emerged. Both approaches were divergent: RS and USA needed police to support military led counterinsurgency operations and EU countries promoted community based policing. Police cannot be de-linked from counterinsurgency operations and moreover, the success of counterinsurgency strategy depends on community support and communities need to be involved. Security Council mandated UN efforts were never actively sought to reform police and to utilize international institutions and resources.
Afghanistan could neither have conducive political environment, nor operational environment for community policing. In the process, police got converted to a paramilitary force supporting military operations treating every Taliban as enemy: a ‘dushman’ irrespective of his level of involvement in crimes and criminal activities. Police got pulled into war machine with resource driven strategy of logistics and heavy weapons. Police distanced itself from communities and became a powerful tool of political elites and power structure. Killing a Taliban was considered as a ‘de facto’ legitimate action of the police. Proportionality of the use of force was seldom assessed. Local feuds got converted to bipartisan where one is pro government and other pro Taliban and newly established police system and criminal justice system started taking sides instead of resolving feuds efficiently in an impartial manner with objectivity. Disputes over land, water and crops are common in Afghanistan. Society has feudal characteristic with strong family ties and respect for elders and religious leaders. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. It is applicable to Afghan situation also. The new policing system without its doctrine and operationalized guidelines, regulatory mechanisms, standing operating procedures, and accountability mechanisms often supported the pro government political elites, which gave Taliban a fertile space to re-emerge.
In the absence of policing doctrine, the police institution in Afghanistan has become an extension of military, where senior officers were deployed from military and administrative and logistics models were also imported from military. The end state of the police, its structure, policy framework, its role in democratic polity, local governance, development, criminal justice system, power dynamics, social dynamics, and national security are not well spelled. Albeit, one religion in the country followed by almost all, the Afghan society is diversified with ethnic and religious differences. Afghanistan is having historical and continuing differences with its neighbors, especially Pakistan and Iran. Afghanistan is the center of regional and international geopolitical interest. These realities should have guided the policing model.
There are many models of policing. Policing evolves in responses to social development and political and economic philosophy of the country. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the police was state centered - serving the state and after Balkan crisis of 1991-1994, it was reengineered as democratic and restructured as multi-ethnic. In Rwanda, the police was para-militarized to serve the state and after 1994, it was re-established as an independent institution to serve and protect people. Post 09/11, Afghan and Iraq situations and their policing challenges including corruption, factionalism and influence of political elites were similar. Striking feature is that Ministry of Interior in Iraq was not dissolved in 2003 and continuity in policing existed. Iraq followed a combination of centralized and decentralized policing models.
India follows a decentralized policing model where each province has its own police but they are harmonized and coordinated by the central government. Pakistan follows a similar operational model but with centralization. Iran police model is different.
Police reform is highly political process and even then, there was never a wider discussion and consensus in Afghanistan focusing on type of police people want. It was presumed that national police can keep the society in order but structure of such police could not be envisioned. Rule of law based model was imposed on Afghan society without developing policing processes and such a model was bound to fail, as policing is a process oriented field work and these process can never be developed, implemented and institutionalized in project driven ad-hoc approaches of few years. International partners did not ‘afghanize’ support to Afghan police and they engaged outsiders more undermining institution and cultural strengths of Afghan police. Afghan police is of almost 200,000 personnel and irony is that, international partners don’t engage them actively in conceptualization, planning, and execution of their programs. It slows down the capacity development of Afghan police. Afghan police is treated as recipients of sophisticated presentations and programs, often irrelevant and unrealistic. Some of the programs are just data collection, advocacy and reiterating problems. Mindset has to be changed to ‘afghanization’ of support. Focus remained on infrastructure and support system creations ignoring operational support aligning to operational necessities. Recognizing few highly relevant police programs, largely efforts remained limited to desktop reviews and academic exercises repeating similar policy documents without having realistic implementation, enforceability and institutionalization aspects. Basic policing is undertaken by a policeman who walks on streets and villages ‘qaryas’. Other police units are there to support him. He becomes an integral part of community. He is multi-skilled. He empathizes, sympathizes, cajoles, uses common sense of right vs. wrong and legal vs. illegal, symbolizes the Afghan state and uses legitimate force.
Even after seventeen years of engagement, this aspect could never be integrated in international support. International supports remain limited to the program agency’s limited mandate and often advocacy tools and attempts to treat symptoms, not the causes of those. One of the basic aspects of police, responding to information, incident, call for assistance with appropriate supervisory and managerial control could not be structured and institutionalized. In place of focusing on policing aspects, international partners chose to focus on nonoperational police support functions such as clinical management system, pharmacy management system and constructions. Even one of the review of one international partner noted that the efforts did not improve policing, as they lacked contextualization and they are detached from Afghan needs.
There are broader and structural problems in policing in Afghanistan and unless these are rectified, it would not be possible for it to gain confidence of people. The people should perceive it competent to provide physical security and maintain order, which are the foundations of peace, security and development. Continued support of international community has enabled Afghanistan to re-establish the police institution, which is competent and committed to take up challenges of reforming and restructuring. There is political will to reform it, guided by political expediency and demand of international community, people and civil society. All international partners across the board started realizing that core aspects of policing were neglected. New Ministry of Interior Strategic Plan incorporated some of these aspects. Afghan police needs massive doctrine based professionalization and institutionalization efforts through reengineering and restructuring, which is possible only through engagement of policing experts in conceptualization, planning, and execution and ‘afghanization’ of international support.

Upendra Baghel is former Senior Police Advisor, UNAMA. He is an Indian Police Service officer from India having expertise in police, security, and human rights and humanitarian law. These are his personal views and not associated with any of his previous or present organization. He may be contacted via: Upendra.Baghel@gmail.com

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