Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP) are the two main pillars of Afghan security forces. In the lead up to the deadline of 2014 when the security responsibilities will be entirely handed over to these two forces, efforts have been intensifying to prepare the forces for the critical task of security provision.
While the attention of the U.S., the government of Afghanistan and the international donors has been focused on the ANA and its expansion and training, ANP has been increasingly neglected. This is while ANP is in desperate need for reform, institution building, training and increased funding. Presently, the problems, shortcomings and disappointments caused by ANP are no hidden secret. Common people throughout the country are witness on a daily basis to the inefficiency and corruption of the very forces who are supposed to be their guardians and protectors.
In recent years and months, there have been widespread calls from various quarters inside and outside the country to speed up the process of reforms in ANP. However, these calls have mostly fallen on deaf ears. Foreign countries involved in training and equipping of Afghan security forces, experts and some international organizations have all raised their concern over the preparedness and commitment of Police forces in the lead up to the 2014 deadline and beyond. Oxfam International is the latest international organization to warn about the readiness and commitment of ANP forces and has highlighted many serious problems that plague this institution. In its report titled "No Time to Lose", Oxfam lays bare a picture of this institution tainted by abuse, corruption and violation of law.
The worrying fact is that the authorities and decision makers in the government of Afghanistan usually reject and deny such reports out of hand and allege ill-intentions behind preparation of such reports by "foreigners". The fact, however, remains that there is indeed a measure of truth in such reports and many of those who raise their concerns about the state of Afghan Police are indeed worried about the future of this institution especially after the withdrawal of foreign forces beyond 2014.
The British government too, in its internal papers obtained by British newspapers, has voiced some "deeply concerning" criticism of the ANP. According to the British government, Corruption, desertion and drug abuse among the Police recruits are serious problems in the way of turning the Afghan Police force into a professional, committed and reliable provider of safety and security to Afghan people. As Oxfam highlights in its report, time is running out for the government of Afghanistan and the international mission here to abruptly pursue serious reforms in the ANP. In the absence of such a paradigm shift in viewing the issue of Afghan Police, there is very high probability that the corruption, inefficiency and other problems faced by ANP would escalate to new heights and shatter any hopes for fixing this important institution.
There is a host of problems confronting the Afghan National Police that needs to be addressed in a fundamental way in order to turn around the deteriorating condition of this much important national institution. The issue of reforms in the ANP has for long been overshadowed by some other national issues such as the process of talks and negotiations with Taliban.
The governments of Afghanistan and other countries such as U.S. and U.K. have been increasingly pre-occupied with the dilemma of dealing with a resurgent and assertive Taliban in recent years. This and the weariness among these countries from the decade-long war in Afghanistan have contributed to the neglect of ANP and its process of reforms. The government of Afghanistan in particular does not place due emphasis on the importance of building ANP both quantitatively and qualitatively.
Therefore, the first and foremost challenge is building a substantive political will in both Afghan Government and its international backers to seriously and wholeheartedly commit to building a professional and accountable ANP. There can be no doubt that the scale of the challenge is immense. Building an ANP that can fulfill even the minimum of its duties and responsibilities can take many more years and significant international resources and support. In the absence of such a long-term support, ANP may slide back into more difficulties and deteriorate further.
The low pay and salaries offered to Police cadres is another factor that hinders attraction of the best and brightest of Afghan youth to join the Police ranks. The Police recruits are mostly drawn from illiterate, poor and destitute youths who in fact see no other option for themselves but to join the Police ranks. This problem in particular has rendered impossible the task of building an accountable, corruption and abuse free Police force.
The ANP as the name implies must be truly national both in letter and spirit. This requires that the ethnic diversity in Police forces must be balanced and various ethnicities should be duly represented. The current ethnic balance in Police forces is not on track to meet this goal. It is expected from the government of Afghanistan and its international partners to restore this balance as an ethnically unbalanced ANP can easily fall prey to factionalism and lead to divisions within the forces. Another major impediment to building the ANP has been lack of competent leaders within the ranks of the forces.
Although there are many competent leaders, the numbers are not sufficient. The battle against the Taliban and the forces of evil and darkness is indeed a battle of wits and leadership. As Police has been rapidly expanding in numbers, it has been impossible to provide the needed leaders who can motivate and take the lead. This leadership deficit needs to be bridged as it has been seriously hampering the quality growth of the ANP.
There can be no alternative to seriously pursuing the process of reforms, institution building and long-term support to Afghan National Police. As in any other country, the first line of defense against militants is, in actuality, the Police and not the army. This places a huge responsibility on the shoulders of Afghan government, the President and the Ministry of Interior in particular to deliver on this important obligation. Otherwise, in the extremely volatile and insecure environment of post-2014 Afghanistan, the government and the people will find themselves in a disastrous situation from which they will not be able to walk away.