Afghanistan represents one of the biggest attempts by the international community at state-building since the end of the Cold War. Large resources have been devoted to the rehabilitation of the country and progress has undoubtedly been achieved. Afghanistan is unrecognizable from the Taliban-run state at the beginning of this decade. Nevertheless, even by the Afghan government’s own admission, much work remains to be done.
As the United States and its allies debate the next steps, the role of the Afghan National Police (ANP) looms large. Some progress has been made, from infrastructure built to the numbers of officers trained. But institutional and individual competence to tackle crime remains low, while corruption, police criminality and abuses of power are pervasive. Failing to provide sufficient civil security, the police are unable to fulfill their potential role as a key appendage to the reconstruction effort. Moreover, the lack of security and justice confronting Afghan communities severely threatens the current post-Taliban system. Lawlessness is frequently cited as a primary reason for citizen disillusionment with the central government and growing sympathy for insurgent forces.
Many people and organizations are working hard with the best of intentions to ensure Afghanistan’s stability and progress. But this situation is dire and we must take stock of the current situation, identify areas of necessary police reform, and suggest recommendations to speed the reform effort. History can help. A wealth of experience, gleaned from over thirty years of police reform and development, has not been sufficiently acknowledged in Afghanistan. Reform missions in El Salvador, Iraq, Timor-Leste, Sierra Leone and Kosovo provide important lessons which need to be digested for ANP transformation. Yet each mission remains sui generis. Afghanistan’s social, cultural, security and political idiosyncrasies belie any hope that measures can be blindly transplanted from one context to the next— not least the context of a war which imposes its own specific dynamics on reform policies and programs. Based on these lessons, RUSI and FPRI strongly recommend the following:
Reform the International Effort, Not Just the Police:
Commit to long-term ANP transformation
International actors should enter into a ten-to-fifteen year police-focused agreement with the Government of Afghanistan. Over-optimistic program timetables must be re-configured, set instead by the Afghan clock — and measured against benchmarks of qualitative outcomes, as opposed to familiar donor metrics of quantitative outputs.
Expand financial, human and logistical resources
Donors must dedicate increased funds for reform, particularly allocated through the Law and Order Trust Fund Afghanistan. Addressing personnel shortages of 1,500 trainers is key, either through diverting military personnel or on the open market. The EU Police Mission in Afghanistan, in particular, should renew efforts to secure additional funds and personnel, exerting pressure on allies such as France and Portugal and increasing its salaries as an incentive.
Utilize the right institutional and individual actors
The domination of reform by the Combined Security Transition Command— Afghanistan, while not ideal, must be accepted as a necessity. Mitigating the negative impact requires clearer divisions of labor between strategic and policy direction and implementation. Responsibility for Ministry of the Interior reform should fall to the EU.
Increased coordination of the chaotic reform effort requires donor commitment to the International Police Monitoring Board which must then clarify chains of command, reduce areas of overlap and duplication starting with the merger of EU Police Mission and the EC Rule of Law mission.
Private contractors, such as DynCorp, should be carefully assessed and if necessary removed.
Recruitment of personnel with wider skills sets (for example, institution building and change management), experience of conflict reform, and higher ranks. Cultural, linguistic and area expertise is imperative.
Afghan ownership, where possible, must be broadened— from reform design to implementation. Most important is the development of a comprehensive Afghan, rather than U.S. or German, vision of reform.
Relay the Foundations of Policing: Technical Capacity Building
Abandon the obsession with ANP numbers
Security is not the product of a neat mathematical equation. Tashkeel (the Police Organizational Staffing Plan) increases, both unsustainable and ineffective, should be rejected. Reform should concentrate on tackling police attrition and “ghost policemen” via biometric technology, regular payment of salaries and better management. We highly recommend a functional and geographical reorganization of the police— coupled with expanded ANP presence in urban centers and on highways and borders.
Focus on ANP quality
Low recruitment standards should be improved. Merit-based recruitment, to increase professionalism, requires strict enforcement of objective criteria. Political, tribal and ethnic bias must be challenged by donors and the drafting of recruitment officials from different geographical locales. Ethnic imbalances in the police promote a culture of impunity and illegitimacy among the population. Recruitment drives in regions populated by under-represented ethnicities could help. Vetting procedures, which are rarely followed, should be radically overhauled. Careful evaluation of officers must take place at various levels throughout the recruitment and training process.
Key changes in training include revisions to improve efficacy and respect for human rights, and increased course length for satanman (non-commissioned officers) and satunkai (patrolmen). Training must go “back to basics,” while specialized courses on prevalent crimes— for example, domestic troubles and land disputes— would improve service delivery. Establishment of a nationwide literacy campaign would address pervasive ANP illiteracy. In addition, the Focused District Development should be expanded, with a greater focus on targeting particularly vulnerable districts.
Avoid short term force generation
Hastily assembled security forces, such as the National Auxiliary Police, are serious mistakes. Recent decisions to sponsor expedited training and recruitment programs— for example, “pyramid schemes” to train 35,000 for the election— should be abandoned.
Reform the Institutional Architecture
Reform the Ministry of Interior
Better capacity and skills of the ministry at both an individual and institutional level are necessary. This will include improved mentoring and internal reorganization to enhance transparency, clarify branch responsibilities, and reduce duplication of effort. This will count for little if ministry control over itself and the police is not strengthened. Reorganization to ensure clear lines of authority and internal purges aimed at reducing factionalism and mitigating bureaucratic resistance are required. Such reforms can be encouraged if donors condition assistance on comprehensive action.
Improve accountability and oversight
Internal institutional safeguards, such as the Ministry of the Interior’s internal affairs department, should be expanded to tackle endemic corruption and abuses of power. Removing the need for presidential decrees to fire officers would begin to strengthen unit capabilities.
Meanwhile, the government should make an example of corrupt middle and upper management, signaling the end of police impunity, and improving managerial oversight and influence over the rank and file.
Police cannot police themselves. Accountability and oversight should respond to multiple audiences. An external and independent police complaints authority must be established to receive and investigate improper and illegal conduct.
Reform the police into a civilian force
The police are there to enforce that law not to serve as a military auxiliary. This is a fundamental concept key to police reform. Demilitarization should begin with the rhetorical, conceptual and operational separation of the police from the army. Training and equipment, while reflecting this difference, must be suitable for a conflict context. Refocusing the majority of units towards law enforcement should be complemented by an expansion of Afghanistan National Civil Order Police, most units of which are merely used as support for Focused District Development.
A comprehensive public survey, alongside community consultations, would prove fruitful in refocusing the police effort. National and provincial criminal databases should be established. Institutionalizing this civilian focus through formalized local police-community committees, used to great effect in past missions, should be established immediately at both the district and provincial levels to develop local policing.
Police officers should be unshackled from non-core duties of administration and road maintenance, and less capable officers could be relegated to this duty.
Reform the criminal justice sector
Effective policing requires an effective criminal justice sector. It is essential to launch a criminal justice “surge,” reversing years of poor funding and personnel. This will ensure adequate capacity and improved efficiency in the provision of justice. Infrastructure and personnel capacity-building, from new courthouses to new judges, must be complemented by the sector’s decentralization. Reform should focus on providing geographical coverage and institutional depth, particularly at the provincial and district levels.
Reform must actively promote a justice sector, expanding resources and capacity for both the prison sector and the Attorney General’s Office, not only the judiciary. Sector-wide training programs will foster institutionalized links between justice sector institutions, encouraging interagency cooperation and capabilities through confidence-building measures and forums for justice sector professionals to meet. Although the Afghanistan National Development Strategy includes a sector-wide strategy for justice reform that will undoubtedly assist in the balanced development of judicial institutions, the links between justice and police must be a prime focus.
Address the non-state security and justice sector
The best model for Afghanistan’s judicial system is a hybrid of the formal and informal. Noncriminal community disputes and minor crimes should be left to the traditional informal sector, with serious crimes assigned to the formal system. Moreover, recognition of non-state judgments should be registered/recognized by state institutions. Lastly, informal mechanisms should be co-opted to help enforce state mechanism decisions. Nevertheless, reform must target the informal system, enhancing their positive features while eliminating undesirable elements that conflict with the Afghan Constitution or international law, through training courses, as well as formal links with the government, and funding.
Conversely, recent strategy aiming to use non-state actors must be reversed. The Afghan Public Protection Force should be disbanded, or at the very least, carefully assessed before plans for expansion are acted upon; problems with training, loyalty and command and control do not bode well. Neither does Afghan history which is littered with the debris of failed non-state security experiments.
We are convinced that the above recommendations would greatly assist the transformation of the Afghan National Police. But reform will not be quick or easy. Afghanistan has been ravaged by war for over three decades. And police reform is a process. The best should not be the enemy of the good and each step forward should be welcomed. Still, these steps should form part of a reform strategy. The policies and recommendations in this report reflect our firm view that the job can be done.