In Afghanistan, a cop who hands out money, instead of taking bribes
To highlight police corruption in Afghanistan, a US filmmaker set up a fake police checkpoint in Kabul, dressed as an Afghan policeman, and stopped cars. But he didn't take bribes from drivers. Instead, he handed out money.
On the hidden-camera video, it looks like any other Kabul police checkpoint where motorists are asked for small bribes.Skip to next paragraph
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A tall, scraggly bearded officer stops a battered station wagon, looks through the trunk, and checks the driver's papers.
Then the uniformed officer leans into the car window with an unexpected offer.
"On behalf of the city of Kabul and the Kabul police, if you have paid a bribe or 'tip' to someone in the past, I apologize," the officer says in Dari to the disbelieving driver. "Please take 100 Afghanis," about $2.
On a warm afternoon in summer 2009, Kabul-based artist Aman Mojadidi flagged down dozens of cars at a fake checkpoint to hand a little reverse "baksheesh" as his coconspirators filmed the befuddled responses of drivers.
Mr. Mojadidi's aim was simple: He wanted to draw attention to the pervasive misuse of power in Afghanistan and see how Afghan drivers would react when he apologized on behalf of a widely scorned police force.
"To see the abuse of power it can be as easy as putting on a uniform," said Mojadidi, a 39-year-old Jacksonville, Fla., native who recently transformed the footage into a short film called "Payback."
Checkpoints are the most visible reminder to Afghans that the nation is infused with corruption. And the US is investing billions of dollars into rapidly training a new police force that's supposed to shed its image of a state-backed gang of roadside robbers.
"Police are the first thing that people see, touch, and feel that gives them either confidence or a lack of confidence in their government," said US Army Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell, who heads up the NATO police and Army training mission in Afghanistan.
The task is especially daunting.
Entry-level police officers earn about $165 a month. Most don't make much more unless they work in the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan.
The low pay means that police officers, especially those at checkpoints, often try to pad their pay by demanding that drivers pay them "tea money" or "baksheesh."
For that reason, Afghan drivers often approach police checkpoints with a sense of dismay, and convincing low-paid police officers to abandon a longstanding practice isn't an easy task.
"The corruption that people are dealing with at checkpoints and in everyday life is what you need to focus on," said Mojadidi, who's a nephew of Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, the former president who now serves as the leader of Afghanistan's upper house of parliament.
Mojadidi set out last year to find out how easy it would be to transform himself into a police officer after seeing Taliban insurgents disguised as policemen stage a series of brazen attacks in the Afghan capital.
It is against the law to sell police and Army uniforms in Afghanistan's open markets.
Last spring, however, Mojadidi and "Payback" director Walied Osman went to Kabul's central market where they bought four uniforms, complete with pins, police patches, and boots, for about $125.