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Policing in Afghanistan: Still Searching for a Strategy
Policing in Afghanistan: Still Searching for a Strategy
Table of Contents
  1. Overview
Afghanistan: Growing Challenges
Afghanistan: Growing Challenges
Briefing 85 / Asia

Policing in Afghanistan: Still Searching for a Strategy

Police reform in Afghanistan is receiving more attention and resources than ever before, but such increased efforts are still yet to be matched by significant improvements in police effectiveness and public confidence.

I. Overview

Police reform in Afghanistan is receiving more attention and resources than ever before, but such increased efforts are still yet to be matched by significant improvements in police effectiveness and public confidence. Too much emphasis has continued to be placed on using the police to fight the insurgency rather than crime. Corruption and political appointments are derailing attempts to professionalise the force. The government and the international community need to reinforce the International Policing Coordination Board (IPCB) as the central forum for prioritising efforts and drive forward with much greater unity of effort. Tangible steps such as appointing a career police commissioner and establishing community liaison boards will build professionalism and wider outreach. A national police force able to uphold the rule of law is crucial to state-building and would help tackle the root causes of alienation that drive the insurgency.

After years of neglect, the international community appears to be recognising the importance of police reform in Afghanistan. Greater focus on the sector has seen the first large-scale district-level training and equipping program, $3.8 billion in U.S. commitments in 2007 and 2008 and a reinforced European Union (EU) policing mission. Nevertheless, there is still need for enhanced coordination in the efforts of different countries involved in reform, with a greater emphasis on developing Afghan institutions rather than parallel programs. The EU, despite having nominal lead for police reform, has failed to match rhetoric with a comprehensive strategy and adequate resourcing and personnel. Instead, a deteriorating security situation and political pressure for quick results has continued to obscure longer-term strategic planning and the importance of civilian oversight.

The U.S. military, the dominant actor, still mainly sees the police as an auxiliary security force rather than an enforcer of the law. The Afghan National Police (ANP) is ill-equipped for this role, with 1,200 insurgency-related police deaths in 2007 – and on track for similar numbers in 2008. Such an approach also ignores that organised crime and the lack of rule of law lie at the heart of much popular disillusionment and instability. Lessons that could have been learned from other counter-insurgency situations often appear lost amid a profusion of international efforts. Better law enforcement, including a functioning judicial system, would help counter any appeal the insurgents may hold in Afghanistan.

On-the-ground police training and restructuring has not been matched by political will in Kabul or foreign capitals to tackle the powerbrokers impeding reform. A senior international official described, “trying to do police reform while simultaneously co-existing with forces who want to reach in and corrupt it”. Police appointments and operations are subject to interference at every level.

Despite these shortcomings, there is renewed hope. Changes of personnel at the top provide a chance for fresh impetus in setting goals and driving implementation. These include a new interior minister; a new attorney general; and a new commander of the European policing mission. U.S. military training efforts have been realigned under the dual-hatted commander of U.S forces and the UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). While there are calls for more resources, there first needs to be much greater coherence of approach and streamlining of programs, with political, strategic and operational decision-making clearly delineated and roles defined.

There is, above all, a pressing need for an improved strategic focus across the security and rule-of-law sectors, ensuring police reform takes place within larger state-building efforts, including:

  • clearly defining the roles and responsibilities of the different security organs – the police, the military and the intelligence agencies;
     
  • parallel reform and links with prosecutors’ offices and the justice sector;
     
  • public outreach and consultation with civil society, including women’s organisations, about the shape of policing and the creation of civilian accountability mechanisms; and 
     
  • moving past security-oriented, militaristic notions of policing to include community-policing efforts that build community trust and credibility.

In August 2007 Crisis Group stressed: “Rule of law, upheld by accountable, depoliticised national institutions is key to state building … the police must be viewed as part of a wider process of democratisation, rather than simply a security task”. This briefing focuses on the Afghan Uniformed Police (AUP) and considers major developments in 2007-2008. These include the Focused District Development (FDD) program, begun in late 2007 to reform police at the district level countrywide, as well as the deployment of the EU Policing Mission to Afghanistan (EUPOL), which assumed the nominal lead for police reform in mid-2007. Information was gathered through research in Kandahar, Mazar-e Sharif and Kabul. While many individuals were helpful, it should be noted that policymaking in the sector has become increasingly opaque and data – always notoriously unreliable in Afghanistan – increasingly difficult to access.

Kabul/Brussels, 18 December 2008

Commentary / Asia

Afghanistan: Growing Challenges

Political fractures continue to weaken the Afghan National Unity Government as the Taliban insurgency expands and an Islamic State affiliate strengthens its foothold. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2017 – First Update early-warning report for European policy makers, Crisis Group urges the European Union and its member states to continue to provide technical support to the negotiating process and take measures to alleviate the humanitarian crisis.

This commentary is part of our Watch List 2017 – First Update.

Rising insurgency and a fraught political transition are exacerbating an already pervasive sense of insecurity about Afghanistan’s future. Since the 2014 international military drawdown, the resurgent Taliban has fast expanded its presence countrywide. The Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K), an affiliate of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), also has a foothold, albeit limited and mainly in some eastern districts. Two-and-a-half years after it was created to prevent the bitterly contested 2014 presidential election from plunging the country into turmoil, the National Unity Government (NUG) is beset with internal disagreements and dysfunction that undermine the capacity of the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) to counter the insurgency. The government’s ability to confront significant governance, economic and humanitarian challenges also is weak. Civilian and military casualties as well as the numbers of conflict-displaced and those in need of urgent humanitarian assistance continue to grow.

Rising Insurgency

After the transition to Afghan security forces in 2014, the thinly stretched ANDSF has been battling a growing insurgency on several fronts. According to the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) only 57.2 per cent of 375 districts were under government control or influence by 1 February 2017, an almost 15 per cent decline since end-2015. According to the Special Inspector General, 6,785 Afghan forces were killed and another 11,777 wounded from January to November 2016, significant losses at a time when security forces are struggling with personnel retention. The UN Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) also reported a 3 per cent increase in civilian casualties (3,498 killed 7,920 wounded) in 2016 over the previous year. The number of high profile attacks in Kabul also was higher during the first three months of 2017 as compared to equivalent periods in previous years. On 21 April, Taliban gunmen and suicide bombers attacked an Afghan army base in the northern Balkh province, killing over 100 military and other personnel and injuring scores more. The army chief and defence minister both resigned the following day. Two attacks in March targeted police stations and a military hospital, killing 73 and wounding over 240 people.

Preventing the loss of more territory to insurgents, particularly during the anticipated spring offensive, is an urgent priority, notably in order to limit the scope of ungoverned spaces that could be exploited by regional extremists and transnational terror groups. With 8,400 troops already based in Afghanistan, the U.S. military leadership has requested a few thousand additional troops, a step that – if approved – would boost ANDSF morale and potentially could help blunt the insurgents’ offensive. But countering the growing insurgency also will depend on continued robust international financial and technical support, including honouring commitments made at NATO’s July 2016 Warsaw summit to advise, assist and train Afghan forces and provide them with annual funding of up to $4.5 billion until 2020.

Tackling the security situation also will require addressing widening internal disagreements and political partisanship that permeate all levels of the security apparatus and have undermined ANDSF command and control structures. Intra-governmental divisions likewise have impeded implementation of reforms necessary to mitigate the effects of corruption, nepotism and factionalism in the Afghan National Army (ANA) and particularly the Afghan National Police (ANP). Such weaknesses and overall government dysfunction played a major part in the 2016 Taliban advances in Kunduz city in the north, the siege of Lashkargah and Tirin Kot cities in the south, and, in March 2017, the Taliban capture of Helmand’s Sangin district.

Regional Neighbours

Amid ambiguity about the Western will to remain engaged, Afghanistan’s neighbours are more aggressively promoting what they perceive to be their own national security interests. This most notably is the case of Pakistan, whose relations with Afghanistan continue to be strained. Islamabad remains unwilling to facilitate talks between the Taliban and Kabul, and continues supporting its Afghan proxies, allowing them to recruit, fundraise, as well as plan and conduct operations from safe havens inside Pakistan. Pakistan in turn accuses Kabul of at best turning a blind eye, if not actively supporting, Pakistani tribal militants conducting cross-border attacks from Afghan territory.

No internationally-led negotiations will work unless there is a consensus among Afghans, both those backing and opposing the government, to pursue a negotiated peace rather than continued conflict.

Deteriorating bilateral relations have had other consequences. In 2016, Islamabad forcibly repatriated more than 550,000 Afghans (including 380,000 registered refugees) as relations with Kabul deteriorated because of heightened Taliban attacks in Afghanistan and cross-border attacks by Afghanistan-based Pakistani tribal militants. In February 2017, after a major terror attack on a Sufi shrine in southern Pakistan which was claimed by a Pakistani Taliban faction reportedly based in eastern Afghanistan, Pakistan closed its two main border crossings with Afghanistan – Torkham and Chaman – for over a month. It also conducted mortar and other military strikes on the bordering provinces of Kunar and Nangarhar. Though it has since reopened the crossings, Pakistan has begun to fence the border, a move certain to aggravate tensions insofar as Kabul does not recognise the Durand Line as the international boundary.

There are further complicating regional factors. Closer ties between Kabul and New Delhi, which has offered a $1 billion aid package and MI-25 combat helicopters to Afghanistan, are viewed as provocative by Islamabad. Iran long has been suspected of providing military hardware to some Taliban factions, a stance motivated partly by animosity toward the U.S. and more recently by the desire to counter IS-K. Russia also recently has upped its involvement, reaching out to the Taliban and, according to senior U.S military officials providing them with some military support, and proposing to lead a new negotiation process which could further complicate Afghanistan’s security dynamics.

Peace Negotiations

No internationally-led negotiations will work unless there is a consensus among Afghans, both those backing and opposing the government, to pursue a negotiated peace rather than continued conflict. External actors can lend a hand, through facilitation and other support, but the impetus has to come from within. In this context, the European Union (EU) and its member states should continue their technical and financial support to an Afghan-led peace and reconciliation process in its upcoming 2017-2020 EU Strategy for Afghanistan.

A second precondition for successful negotiations is for the U.S., still the most powerful and influential foreign actor in Afghanistan, to settle on a comprehensive political strategy. While the Trump administration’s Afghan policy remains a work in progress, there are clear indications it will maintain its presence in Afghanistan and likely enhance its military support. But it still must address the question of the optimal format and composition of the talks. The Quadrilateral Consultation Group comprising Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and the U.S. has been dormant since the May 2016 U.S. drone attack that killed Taliban leader Mullah Mansoor. Russia’s efforts to bring together Pakistan, China, Iran, India, and most recently Afghanistan, are more promising insofar as they include all regional stakeholders. But Washington declined Moscow’s invitation to participate in the process, concerned that Russia’s outreach to the Taliban, including some military support, could endanger U.S. stabilisation efforts and endanger the lives of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Given the U.S.’s key role, its absence clearly would be to the detriment of the process. The EU should continue providing technical support to a negotiating process that has broad Afghan support, which the Moscow-led process currently lacks even with one of the principal stakeholders, the Taliban.

A third essential element is for Pakistan to become convinced that its interests would be better served by a political settlement in Afghanistan than by continued Taliban insurgency. This will require international efforts both to pressure Pakistan to shift course and to facilitate constructive dialogue between Islamabad and Kabul. The U.S. role will be central, including by conditioning continued military support to Islamabad on Pakistan working with Kabul to bring the insurgents to the negotiating table and rethinking its support to the Taliban’s Quetta Shura and the Haqqani Network, now fully integrated into the insurgency’s command structure. While the U.S. is best placed to pressure Pakistan to reverse its support for Afghan proxies, the EU and member states should use trade and diplomatic ties with Pakistan and financial assistance to Afghanistan as leverage to persuade them to peacefully resolve their differences.

The Humanitarian Situation

Afghanistan suffers from one of the most protracted humanitarian crises in the world. In 2016, which witnessed some of the worst fighting since the U.S.-led intervention in October 2001, 646,698 persons were internally displaced due to conflict, compared to 70,000 in 2010; this added to the roughly one million conflict-displaced in previous years. 2016 also saw one million Afghan refugees and migrants forced to return home from Pakistan and Iran. The EU’s plan to deport back home some 80,000 Afghans whose request for asylum was rejected will further strain Afghanistan’s capacity. More broadly, both Kabul and the humanitarian community, including UN agencies, estimate that 9.3 million people, or almost one-third of Afghanistan’s population, will be in need of humanitarian assistance this year. As security continues to deteriorate and both Pakistan and Iran force more refugees and migrants to return, the humanitarian crisis likely will worsen.

The overall humanitarian crisis is putting enormous pressure on Afghanistan’s already stretched public services and infrastructure, especially in urban centres, where 70-80 per cent of internally displaced and returning refugees tend to settle; most are jobless or under-employed, with little or no access to health care or education. Countrywide, as many as 1.57 million face severe food insecurity. Women and girls are often the worst off given the country’s socially conservative nature. Addressing the humanitarian emergency will require continued, robust and long-term international, including EU, economic assistance. While the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) should persuade Pakistan and Iran to end the forcible deportation of Afghan refugees and migrants, the EU and member states also should at the very least slow down deportations as security continues to deteriorate in Afghanistan.