News / Asia

Kabul Traffic Cop Pays Price for Playing it Straight

Kabul Traffic Cop Pays Price for Playing it Straighti
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Jeffrey Young
March 07, 2014 7:08 PM
A traffic policeman in Kabul has been described by The Washington Post as the most honest man in Afghanistan for steadfastly resisting corruption. And being “straight” has a price. Yet, he perseveres, as VOA’s Jeffrey Young reports.
A traffic policeman in Kabul has been described by The Washington Post newspaper as the most honest man in Afghanistan for steadfastly resisting corruption.  And being “straight” has a price - he has been locked into the same position in a dusty, exhaust filled traffic circle for more than two decades.  Yet, he perseveres.

It’s another day…in another week…in another year at the Sherpur traffic circle in Kabul for Abdul Saboor Khan.

Thousands of cars and trucks whiz by every day, directed by Khan’s whistle…and his ever-moving arms.

“When they hear my whistle, they say ‘Saboor Khan’ is here on duty.  When I am on the road, many people are happy and say 'thank God you are here.' People love the way I organize my tasks. They pay attention when I move my hands and feet," said Abdul Saboor Khan.

When someone disobeys his instructions and gets stopped, one thing does not work.  In a society where “give something - get something in return” is often the norm, Khan has made himself a notable exception.  He refuses to be bribed out of taking action.

“I don’t do any corruption. I work hard and work a lot. Thanks to my hard work, I earn a good salary and God helps me survive on that money.  And there are many people who appreciate me," he said.

Khan has paid a steep price for refusing to be corrupt.  After 24 years on the job, he has only been given one promotion, which he says he didn't receive.

“I am known as one of the most honest traffic cops in Afghanistan, in Kabul. But the promotion they signed for me, they refuse to give me," he said.

Khan’s salary is the equivalent of US $200 a month. And since he doesn’t take bribes to supplement his pay, he lives in a five-room house shared with 28 other people.

While his wallet is thin, his career has been thick with accolades.  Khan’s honesty has been commended by everyone from officials of the now-ousted Afghan Taliban regime to international organizations including the United Nations, which made a mini-documentary about him.

The price of Khan’s honesty is noted by Nathanial Heller, of the watchdog group Global Integrity.

“It’s a massive personal sacrifice. That’s the first thing to sort of embrace, is that he, or someone like him, is doing this at huge risk, and at huge cost professionally, and sometimes this turns into personal and family blow-back [reprisal]. Your cousin gets fired for no reason.  There is physical safety involved.” ((then)) It’s just a tough slog, and it’s a credit to people like them [Khan] to at least demonstrate what the other example [honesty] looks like," said Heller.

Khan says he has even had his toes crushed by cars driving over his feet. Yet he’s out there the next day, and the day after that.  In a dusty place where your lungs get filled with choking car exhaust.  But to Khan, it’s a matter of principle.  And that’s the clean air he breathes.

Jeffrey Young

Jeffrey Young came to the “Corruption” beat after years of doing news analysis, primarily on global strategic issues such as nuclear proliferation.  During most of 2013, he was on special assignment in Baghdad and elsewhere with the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR).  Previous VOA activities include VOA-TV, where he created the “How America Works” and “How America Elects” series, and the “Focus” news analysis unit.

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