A Taliban suicide bomber killed the police chief of Afghanistan’s critical and long restive southern province of Kandahar on Friday, just days after the chief had expressed optimism about security gains.
“I am hopeful that we will have a safe and secure environment in our city,” Gen. Khan Mohammad Mujahid said in a Monday interview with the Monitor. “We have destroyed and eradicated [militants’] safe havens, so they don’t have bases to plan their attacks and operations.”
Four days later, a man dressed in police clothing approached General Mujahid in the courtyard of the heavily guarded police headquarters in Kandahar City, hugged him, and detonated himself. The blast killed Mujahid along with two of his bodyguards and injured three others.
His assassination is one of many recent incidents that casts increasing doubt on the abilities of the police, who will be called on to take a larger role in providing security as international forces start transitioning security to Afghan forces in select areas of the country in mid-July. When riots broke out in Mazar-e-Sharif on April 1 in response to Quran burnings in Florida, protesters managed to take guns away from the police. During riots in Kandahar last week that left at least nine dead, police angered citizens when they fired on the crowd.
In Monday's interview, Mujahid praised the increased coordination among the Afghan Army and the police, but he said it would take an additional two to four years before police attain the necessary level of professionalism to work without the support of international troops.
“People are pleased with the Afghan Army, but not the police. The police always make mistakes,” says Mohammed Faizi, an independent analyst in Kandahar city. “We have to train the police and make them stronger so they can control the city. Maybe the situation in Kandahar will become very good if the police improve, but if the police remain like they are today it will stay very dangerous here.”
Last year Afghanistan and international forces expanded police ranks, adding 35,000 officers to the force, bringing the total number up to 122,000. By the end of 2011, Afghan officials hope to have at least 134,000 police.
Still, there remain many questions about whether the police force can maintain quality in the midst of such a rapid expansion.
“When the police are recruited, no one is recruiting them based on their qualifications. They are just jobless people. Some of them are even drug addicts,” says Hilaluddin Hilal, a former deputy of the Ministry of Interior and current member of parliament for Baghlan Province.
There had been at least three previous attacks on Mujahid's life since he took the top police position in Kandahar province four months ago, and he is the second provincial police chief assassinated within the last month. On March 10, a suicide bomber killed Abdul Rahman Sayedkhili, chief of the northern province of Kunduz.
The death of Mujahid, however, may draw more attention as it occurred in a province that has been the focus of Afghan and international military efforts here.
“Kandahar is the province which affects the entire country, because the history and politics of Afghanistan was always, is always, and will always be determined by Kandahar,” says Tooryali Wesa, the governor of Kandahar Province. “With a small explosion here, [militants] can present their presence to the entire world so they will try to be active here.”