Sunday, October 07, 2007

Afghan Police Delayed For Years

Spira District, Khost Province, Afghanistan - There is a vicious chicken and egg cycle at work in Afghanistan, just now being reversed.
Too few resources are allocated to police.
Low pay makes it tough to recruit police. So there are too few policemen to do the job. So the job does not get done. So the people dislike the police and recruiting drops off even more. And so it goes on and on.
Would you risk your life for $60 or so a month? That's what a policeman has been paid for the past six years.
Would you risk your life as a policeman when you know the Afghan National Army foot soldiers are getting $120 a month or more for doing a similar job?
Would you risk your life as policeman when instead you can make $110 a month cutting wood in the mountains?
No, you wouldn't. Neither do the Afghans.
American soldiers here say the police are undermanned. They cannot attract enough recruits.
But finally, at last, there is pay reform and things are starting to change and wages boosted.
When reconstruction kicked off six years ago the coalition divided up the responsibilities. The Americans took over training the Army, the Germans the police, and so on.
The international community in its infinite wisdom decided that $50-60 a month is a living wage for an Afghan policeman. They were wrong. It's not.
It's taken the coalition six years to realize their mistake and in the next month or two pay is going to be boosted to the same level as the Afghan National Army soldiers.
Way too late.
The police now have an image problem. They are seen as corrupt and ineffective by the populace.
For years they have been reduced to taking bribes from gem smugglers, taking illegal "tolls" from passing trucks, and often taking hand-outs from insurgents. And they don't attract recruits either.
One morning in Spira district, American advisors stop in at a district headquarters. Except there is no headquarters here. The old police station has been knocked down to make way for a district center that is half built. The new police station will probably, maybe, be built next year.
Meanwhile the police and district sub-governor are squatting in the schoolhouse. Lord knows how they will all cope when the school year starts and the snows come in a few weeks
The American advisors are here to meet with the police chief and sub-governor to check in on progress. There is little progress to report. The police have only 8 policemen on duty here. There are a reported 500-to-5000 (yes 5-thousand) insurgents in the hills nearby. Pakistan is only 6 miles away. Spira is a major infiltration route into the country for the Taliban, al-Qaeda and other insurgents.
The police want to do what's right, but are powerless. They lack even enough gas for their brand-new Ford Ranger pickup trucks.
And the police are important. Properly employed, they are the eyes and ears of the other security forces.
The next time the conventional wisdom expresses concern that the war in Afghanistan is dragging on, consider the case of Spira district.
And thank the international community for setting up the Afghan National Police to fail thoughout Afghanistan, through low wages and a sad lack of resources.
And thank the Americans for allowing it to happen without ever rocking the boat.

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