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Rebuilding Police Force Top Priority for Afghan Government - 2003-03-27

Afghanistan's new government says one of its top priorities is rebuilding the country's police force, which, like most institutions in Afghanistan, was largely destroyed by more than two decades of war and conflict.

New recruits march in step on the grounds of the Kabul Police Academy. The recruits march across freshly manicured grounds to newly renovated buildings where German police professionals teach them the latest law enforcement techniques.

The recruits are highly motivated, but many say that while they want to serve their country as police officers, their training is hurt by a lack of resources. Cadet Mamoon Khawar, the son of a police officer, says that ever since he can remember, he has dreamed of following in his father's footsteps. However, Mamoon Khawar says he and his fellow cadets do not have the resources they need.

"We have problems in our training, because we do not have the proper materials for teaching," he said. "Our teachers are good teachers, they are experienced teachers, but the problem is that we do not have the materials for the teachers. This is the main problem."

Mamoon Khawar's assessment is shared by his instructors. General Daoud Askaryar, commander of the Kabul Police Academy, says most recruits only receive about $15 a month in pay, not enough to live on in crowded, expensive Kabul.

General Askaryar says it is not only his cadets who face problems with pay and resources. Even generals like himself receive meager salaries of less than $50 a month. He says personal problems related to a lack of resources dominate the lives of his cadets and regular officers.

The problems Afghanistan's police officers face effect the population they police. Margaret Ladner is one of the authors of a recent report by Amnesty International that exposed grave problems permeating the ranks of Afghanistan's 50,000 police officers.

"We found lots of problems with torture, arbitrary arrest and detention at the hands of the police," she said. "It is not something organized at a high level but what it is that police lack the skills and training to do their jobs properly. They have not been paid for months so they are having to find other ways of gaining income. They lack basic training. Some of them are illiterate."

Margaret Ladner and other critics of the police say one of the biggest problems concerning the force, especially outside of Kabul, is that most officers are former mujahedin fighters who owe their loyalty to local warlords rather than to a central police authority. The Amnesty International report recommends a complete overhaul of the force and a major new commitment by international donors to provide enough resources to train and equip a professional police force.

Afghan government officials say they are all too aware of the problems, and are doing everything they can to create a professional police force, as soon as possible. 15,000 recruits have begun an intensive three-year training program at the Kabul Police Academy. 7,000 police currently working will receive more training in basic police procedures in a U.S.-sponsored program set to begin shortly.

Ali Jalali, is Afghanistan's interior minister. The former journalist says reforming the police is his top priority but the job will take some time.

"We have to patient," he said. "The creation of a police force or a national army takes time. I wish we could do it sooner but it takes time. If we can do it in three to four years we should be very lucky."

Among the reforms Ali Jalali says will soon be approved are human rights training for officers, and efforts to demobilize and disarm officers who do not obey central authority. He also wants to create specialized services such as border police and highway patrol officers.

The interior minister says he is confident the international donor community will support the reform process. He says he hopes his fellow Afghans will have the patience to wait for the reforms to take effect.