Cops go crooked in Kabul as pay and training lag
Afghan officials say donor countries are reneging on promises to aid the police force.
As the sun sets over Kabul, the city's hustle and bustle is replaced by shadows and darkness. And with twilight emerges a new criminal network - members of the city police.Skip to next paragraph
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"They knocked at my door, introduced themselves as policemen, showed their identities, and looked around. But they returned at night to loot," says Naeem Khan, a grocery-shop owner in a working-class neighborhood of Kabul. "The Americans and Afghan government are chasing big personalities like Osama and Mullah Omar. [But] for us, these are a bigger threat; for us, these policemen are Al Qaeda."
Some 50,000 men now serve in Afghanistan's police force, with around 15,000 in Kabul alone. Most are uneducated, and belonged to various mujahideen groups until President Hamid Karzai appealed to citizens to join the police and national Army to keep order.
By day, these young recruits can be seen at every roundabout, shopping area, and government building, wearing dark green uniforms, carrying Kalashanikov rifles, and shouting through megaphones in either Persian or Pushto.
But by night, their out-of-uniform exploits raise fears - a result, observers say, of a force that is disorganized, untrained, and perhaps most important, underpaid.
Afghan officials lay part of the problem at the feet of Western donor countries that have not fulfilled promises to organize and help fund the police force.
"Donor countries are not releasing required funds so we cannot afford to give policemen their salaries," says Afghan deputy interior minister Hilaluddin Hilal. "Providing security and peace to Afghans is our priority. But we cannot do much with our pockets empty."
Two months ago, Mohammad Sufaid, a car dealer, found himself the target of dishonest police. A relatively wealthy man, he has a cement and concrete house, while neighboring homes are made of mud and wood.
"They entered saying they wanted to search the house. Once inside, they pointed their guns at me and [my family and] started collecting valuables from the house," Mr. Sufaid says. "I recognized one of them. I shouted 'you are a policeman.' Then they opened fire and killed my young nephew."
Sufaid reported the incident to police officials, but nothing happened. A few days ago, he saw one of the assailants in a police uniform guarding a roundabout. "I just shied away myself," he says.
"Thefts by these 'robbers' are routine," he adds.
Some police may be abusing their powers simply to make ends meet. Those who remain dutiful to their job wonder how long they can continue.
One of these "good cops" is Haroon Mohammad. The young Tajik sweats profusely standing at a busy roundabout where he is guarding a construction site.
"From six in the morning to six in the evening, I stand here, but I have not gotten my salary for the last eight months," he says. For the first three months, he did receive around $35 as his monthly salary. But he hasn't been paid since, and the government recently slashed wages to less than $17.