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Afghan Minister Paints Grim Picture of Police Force, Emphasizes Reforms - 2003-10-01

Afghanistan's interior minister says reform of his country's corrupt police force is his number-one priority.

Afghan Interior Minister Ali Jalali says his country has a police problem.

Corruption plagues the ranks of law enforcement around the country, he says, with some officers perpetrating robberies and extortion. Some police are part of the private militias of local strongmen.

As a result, Mr. Jalali says, the nation lacks law and order, despite the relatively large number of policemen.

"The numbers are not going to help here, because what matters is the quality of the police officers," said Mr. Jalali. "Now, we have probably about 70,000 on the books, policemen across the country. However most of them are untrained, poorly trained, poorly paid … police officers who are mostly loyal to their local leaders."

He says even some bodyguards serving Afghanistan's highest-ranking officials are committing criminal activities when off-duty.

Mr. Jalali's solution is to rebuild Afghanistan's police from the ground up.

His ministry is creating a new national law enforcement cadre that will replace the current police, many of whom were drawn from militia fighters after the end of the 2001 war that ousted the former Taleban regime. The new force receives academy training, thanks in part to foreign aid for the project.

Mr. Jalali hopes to eventually create a national police force of 50,000 regular officers and 12,000 border police. Right now, the new force has only 2,000 officers or less than two percent of the interior minister's target.

Yet even this small number is already making its presence felt.

On Tuesday, the national police made its first arrest of Afghan gangsters since the fall of the Taleban.

Sources close to the police say the gang members in question had powerful connections in the capital Kabul. This, they say, seems to indicate that the new police force is dedicated to its duty and is not afraid to arrest criminals close to powerful figures.