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Last Updated: 11/04/2009
The Need for Security Sector Reform in Afghanistan to Curb Corruption
Sharif Azami

This paper, on the basis of available literature and organizations’ experiences, aims to evaluate and analyze the institutional limitations and weaknesses of the police and judicial sector of Afghanistan’s security sector.

Understanding the trends and inadequate practices in the services delivery systems of the Afghan security sector will set the stage for possible policy recommendations to enhance the effectiveness of the sector and curb corruption. Subsequently, identification of effective and feasible policy recommendations to enhance the performance of the Afghan police and judicial sector will enable other service delivery institutions to resourcefully implement development initiatives.

Insurgent control over the Afghan territory is increasing. Many reports confirm that due to the government’s inability to provide services to the citizens, many Afghans turn to the Taliban and support their activities. This is related to a rise in violence; for example, the number of suicide attacks has increased from 27 in 2005 to 139 in 2006, remotely detonated bombing from 783 to 1677 and armed attacks are increased from 1558 to 4542 during the same year.[1] The Security Council report on Afghanistan in March 2008 indicates that the government officials have no access to thirty-six of the 376 districts of Afghanistan. The same report shows that 566 violent incidents were recorded per month in 2007 and of the 8,000 fatalities more than 1,500 were civilians the same year.[2]

The majority of the Afghans support the presence of U.S. and their allies in Afghanistan to maintain peace and stability, however, a recent survey indicates that this trend is decreasing day-by-day. “71% of Afghans support the United States presence in Afghanistan. Most Afghans continue to see the U.S.-led overthrow of the Taliban as a good thing – 76 percent, although down from 88 percent in 2005.”[3]

International donors, particularly the U.S. has concerns that the current level of police training and reform undermines the broader strategy of counterinsurgency. This is mainly due to lack of mentoring of Afghan police, limited institutional reform in the Ministry of Interior (MoI), and the government's inability to curb the deep-seated corruption in the police departments. The assessment of the German government on Afghanistan's policing sector revealed that neither the police nor the customs authorities have the ability to control any of the long boarders of the country. [4]

Afghanistan’s security sector is comprised of five pillars: Police, Army, Justice, Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR), and Counter-narcotics. The army (Afghanistan National Army - ANA), supported by the U.S., has been well-established and gained a certain level of respect within Afghan society. The Afghan National Police (ANP) with the responsibility to forefront-fight terrorism and protect civilians lacks adequate attention and support. While current levels of corruption and inefficiency are high, since the U.S. has also taken the lead to form a strong police base, the performance of the police is expected to improve to the level of ANA, with Germany as the key-partner country. Japan (with broader UN assistance) leads the DDR initiatives. Italians lead the judicial sector, that has minimal progress with ill-staffing, high corruption, and the absence of a common strategy for judicial reform. Finally, the United Kingdom is the lead for counternarcotics initiatives; Afghanistan still produces more than 93% of world opium.[5]

Overview of the Police Sector

The institutional structure and responsibilities of police

The police department, under the auspices of MoI, is responsible for the maintenance of public order and security, protection of locals and their legal rights, observation of the constitution, law adherence, discovery of crimes and investigation.[6]

The ANP consists of six departments; the uniformed police, criminal investigation, border police, training/education, administration and logistics. Police in districts and provinces under the leadership of MoI designated sex regional commands are required to work under the guidance of governors and district leaders, while, the border police are solely responsible to the MoI.

The GoA has approved the development of a police force of 62,000 (50,000 uniformed police + 12,000 border police); 4,116 standby police, 3,400 highway police, and 2,264 counter-narcotics police are also part of the uniformed police.[7] However, the government budgets for the salaries of the policemen based on the allotments, and not the actual number of police, due to the lack of a comprehensive administrative system. In partcularly insecure areas, due to the absence of government inspections, the number of policemen is found to be significantly lower than the actual numbers, although the salaries for the missing police are continuously going to their commanders.

The increase in Taliban-led insurgency has compelled the government to establish a temporary police force (Auxiliary Afghan Police Force -AAPF) for the southern region of the country - adding an additional 11,271 policemen to the existing number. Furthermore, in 2006 the U.S. suggested that the level of police force be increased to 82,000, which will jump the expenditures on ANP salaries from $US 24 Million to an estimated of $US 30 million per annum. Later, a taskforce consisting of Afghan officials and international donors estimated the required number of ANP at 94,000 in 2008, 99,000 by 2012, and as security improves, this to decline back to 94,000 by 2015. Given fiscal and budget constraints, the decision made by the Afghan Joint Coordination Board was to temporarily increase the ANP from 62,000 to 82,000.[8]

The creation of and support for AAPF is still questionable. International donors believe that, although militias were of great support to fight the Taliban, this group will hamper the government’s legitimacy. This is mainly due to the fact that a local policeman would treat their commanders with more loyalty than the government. However, the GoA and President Karzai believe that militias should be integrated to the ANP and that more funding should be channeled for funding such entities, arguing that local issues are best solved locally (or tribal issues to be solved in a tribal way).

Major stakeholders and donors of the police sector

The U.S. has taken the responsibility to train the ANA. The U.S. is also a major donor for the establishment of an active police force in Afghanistan. The U.S. Combined Security Transition Command – Afghanistan Project has increased their funding from $US 24 million in 2002 to 2.5 billion in 2007 for the construction of police facilities, supplies of equipments, training costs etc. This has increased further under the Obama administration. Germany's support for the ANP has included the establishment of a Joint Police Project Office. This project office aims to advise Afghan security authorities to build a police force that is bounded to the rule of law and human rights. The European Union Police Mission in Afghanistan Project is the single largest financer of ANP (providing around $US 160 million for the period of 2003-2006). Other major donors have also contributed to the police sector through the United Nation Development Program (UNDP) – Law and Order Trust Fund for Afghanistan that pays for the salaries, institutional development and operation cost of the police. The overall expenditures for the ANP are estimated to be 114.27 millions for 2007-2008 financial year.[9]

Problem Situation

Police considered as part of the problem not solution; a need for an effective police force

The experience of Afghanistan reveals that, in the absence of security, no governmental or non-governmental organization's services could be delivered in an effective manner to local populace. In this scenario, having an effective police force to maintain the law and order becomes essential. However, due to lack of initial attention and the absence of effective leadership in Afghanistan, this sector has become one of the most disbanded and corrupt sectors of the government. Security authorities are the main sources a citizen would ideally approach for protection, however, in Afghanistan, the last option one would consider for resolving a conflict would be police. This can be well seen in the following statements:

The true and patriotic police officer is the friend of the people. People always approach them to get rid of oppression. If police officers do not have these qualities people would rather prefer to live under oppression and injustice rather than going to the police since they know that applying to the police will bring them additional problems. (President Karzai, speaking on Radio Afghanistan, 21 November 2002)[10]

There are some parts of Afghanistan where the last thing people want to see is the police showing up. . . . The police (in some areas) are corrupt. They are part of the problem. They do not provide security for the people — they are the robbers of the people. (Brigadier General Gary O’Brien, former Deputy Commander of CSTC-A, March 2007)[11]

Forget about the Taliban. Our biggest problems are with the police. (Anwar Ali, truck driver, May 2007)[12]

Although police forces are among the most disliked by civil society, the same forces are the increasingly the targeted victims of insurgent attacks or bomb blasts. In 2002, only 9 policemen were reported to be killed in active combat, in comparison to 627 in 2007. Furthermore, the security sector is considered to be one of the least supported sectors since the establishment of the government. Recently, increased insurgency in the southern region of the country has compelled international donors to realize the greater need for an effective police force.

Afghanistan’s history shows that the country has never had an active or organized national police force. An initial step was made toward the creation of an organized police force in the 1960s and 1980s. However, three decades of war not only demolished these institutions, but also turned them into paramilitary groups. The Mujahidin regime (holy warriors) considered the communist regime officials, including the police forces, as the enemies of the country, making it impossible for the profession to remain active or even attractive.

Later, in 2001, the fall of the Taliban regime brought with it U.S. supported anti-Taliban militia groups. These militias, particularly the North Alliances, with some very prominent leaders, managed to fill all the key positions within the police department across the country with untrained and uneducated warlords and militia leaders. Considering this as the starting point, most of the militia commanders stationed in the districts and provinces were not sure how they were going to be paid, how many police they were going to have, and operated in the corrupt system of the MoI by rising revenues through corrupt means.

The lack of accountability and efficiency

According to one estimation, “80% of the afghan police infrastructure has been destroyed.”[13] Billions of dollars have been spent for the supplies and infrastructure of police forces. However, due to a lack of internal control and accountability, most of the equipment was misused and/or misplaced. Most of the police forces utilize the weapons, cars, and other resources for their personal use. In many cases, the provincial reconstruction teams (a civil-military base providing support to provincial authorities) avoids to provide any assistance to these forces due to reasons as such. While, the maintenance and operating costs of police forces is an issue the government has no adequate plans for, especially in regards to fuel supply.

The problem with payroll and financing

Decades of war has destroyed the entire administrative system of Afghanistan. Although since 2002, the government has made significant progress in the reform of the Ministry of Finance (MoF), payments to government officials, particularly, of police forces takes up to six or nine months. Inadequately, absence of banking system has enabled corrupt officials and warlords not to hire the number of police allotted in the structure or to cut a percentage of the policeman salary. The MoF has made a comprehensive strategy of direct payments to civil staff through banks or cash in hand. However, given the corrupt practices in the government departments and slow process of reform, it may take years for the civil servants to receive on-time pay.

Inefficient training programs

The German Police Project Office rebuilt the Kabul Police Academy; hundreds of new policemen and commissioned officers are trained. One central and six regional training centers have been established in six key provinces to train local police. However, these courses are typically tought by Afghan instructors who have only received three weeks of instructor development training. By June 2006 around 60,000 policemen had been trained by these institutions, but only 3, or 5 or max 9 week modules of Transition Integration Program Courses were offered. Significantly, the data also suggests that less than 30% of the police forces are literate. The question that arises, then, is how these forces can be expected to enforce the rule of law. Similarly, these trained police forces also do not pursue their duty after training, usually preferring to leave or to get a certificate or an identity card to have the ability to carry weapons openly.[14]

The key problems of pay and management

The ranking of police forces and pay-scale is a major concern for the government. The fiscal feasibility to increase police forces is one issue, the increased number of police forces with higher rank but lower ability is another issue. Although the GoA has introduced many reforms and has increased the salaries level of staff, neither has the number of untrained high-ranked officials reduced, nor is the salary enough for an ordinary patrolman. For example, the salary for a general was increased from $US 107 to $US 750 a month in 2006, while, the salary for an ordinary patrolman still remains $US 60-80 or $US 115 to $US 160 for a sergeant.[15]

Accordingly, the leadership due to political pressures, on-going aggression of tribal leaders and their influence on central government recruits illiterates on the top positions of the police sector. This could be clearly seen in the following interview with a government official:

A terrible example of our current leadership was the effort to reform the level of police generals, when 14 police chiefs who failed the exams were rewarded with top positions. The entire nation has seen this. Karzai makes decisions based on three grey beards telling him to hire someone. He does not think about the consequences of not hiring professionals. Why was an illiterate person who failed the exam appointed for a position responsible for the security of 3-4 million people in Kabul?[16]

The Need for Reforms in the Police Sector

The problems in the police department could be translated as absence of institutional and leadership capacity, lack of coordination for a common vision and strategy, and absence of a common approach to the overall development and reform of security sector. Furthermore, the willingness of foreign mentors to train local forces, the creation of incentives to ensure long-term commitment of trained officers, attracting literate individuals for the profession and enhancing the literacy of existing officers, and acquiring and rising adequate funds for the administrative and operational costs of the police sector could be categorized as significant challenges.

A comprehensive strategy for the overall development of the police force is required. This strategy should be a common pool for the interest of all stakeholders. This strategy should balance the need for a police force to be the maintainer of the rule of law, but also the fighter for the insurgency. Given the particularly scenario of Afghanistan, it is vital to have dual-role police force.

International donors should let the GoA be the lead for the reform efforts and sector lead on all security sector initiatives. Although the support of international actors is important, these actors being as the leaders for the security sector will not be able to identify priorities best suited for the Afghan context. Inadequately, if a donor with a different approach is leading a particular section of the security sector i.e. Germany police, Italy justice, the pillars of security sector will end up having different organizational structures with no synergies and coordination of responsibilities.

For the police sector to work effectively, their superiors, the MoI will also need a major reform. The corruption begins in the central level, within the ministry where key positions are sold and bought. Currently, the MoI neither has the capacity to provide on-time administrative support to the police force, nor leadership capacity to lead and manage the police force and other key institutions within the country. The example of 6 or 9 months of salary dispatch can best convoy the message.

The number of police force to maintain law and order is important, however, more important is their competence and effectiveness. The government and international donors will have to: 1) improve the type of trainings that are given to police officers; 2) figure out the amount officers and patrolman that are required; 3) and analyze the need for budget for these forces along with a significant consideration for increase in the salary level and incentives. Insufficient salary, late payments and corrupt and illiterate leaders can impose any individual in the civil service to be corrupt, and these individual can not be criticized for that.

Taking the budget constraints and future limitations of donors funding into consideration, the old system of compulsory two years military and police service should be reconsidered for adoption. In the King Zahir Shah period during the 1970s till late 1987, even during the fighting period, the government required every man not pursuing higher education to perform a military service. This service besides providing government with free soldiers also developed the education level of uneducated ordinary citizens and enhanced their understanding of the rule of law and government affairs.

The Formal Justice Systems

The Afghan judiciary is one of the most important institutions for the state, as it is supposed to enforce and maintain the law that citizens have been demanding for decades. However, this sector, comprised of the Ministry of Justice, an autonomous Attorney General's Office, and the Supreme Court, is amongst the least developed and most corrupt institution of the country. The staff in the institutions are trained with different educational methods and tools; one type includes the graduates from the Kabul University Law School, others include Islamic Shari’a School and other religious schools.

The changes in regimes have further hampered the way of justice in Afghanistan. During the 1980s the Communist regimes tried to completely secularize the legal system. In the 1990s Mujahidins (holy warriors) introduced legal codes and cadres by taking Islamic principles into considerations. Finally the Taliban regime denounced all the secular codes of the Afghan legal system and pushed for full Talibanization of the judiciary. These differences have made it difficult for Karzai’s administration to reform and rebuild the Afghan judiciary. Subsequently, due to corrupt practices, Afghans have lost confidence in this organ and are relying mostly on non-state justice system (traditional or tribal).[17]

Similar to the police sector, the judicial sector lacks adequate support and attention from the government, as well as the international donors. Although international donors had donated $US 30 Million in 2002 for structural reform, capacity building and physical infrastructure of the judiciary, and Italy has been the lead of the Afghan judicial sector, little progress has been seen in this regard.[18]

While the lack of capacity and expertise is a key issue, the type and level of legal training provided in the country are far from adequate. Participants in the legal trainings are unsatisfied about the quality of the trainings, while staff in the field is never informed of the amendments or progress made in the judicial sector or national laws. Inadequately, the Kabul School of Law and Shari’a have different methods of teaching law to students and severely lack an updated and common curriculum.[19]

Study reveals that the leadership of the Afghan judicial sector lacks adequate technical knowledge and expertise, whereas, the staff working in the judiciaries have different and little legal expertise. The 1976 civil and panel codes were redistributed and the Afghan constitution was ratified in 2004. However, most of the judges lack information about state laws due to inadequate dissemination of information and training. Consequently, most of the staff, particularly the executive staff is hired on the basis of personal ties and briberies, while making the effect of law enforcement baseless. The Primary Courts in 255 districts, 32 provinces Provincial Courts and the Kabul High and Supreme Court decisions have been repeatedly undermined that president has to issue decrees on major issues. Finally the alignment of the national laws with international norms and standards has never been on the agenda of the government.[20]

The Need for Reform in the Judicial Sector

The problem of inadequate resources, staffing and leadership applies to the same extent to judicial sector as to the police sector. The judicial sector needs to be equally equipped and developed along with the police sector. If the police continue to arrest criminals and the prosecutors and judges release them, an effective police force will not mean anything. Currently, the judicial sector functions in two different ways (formal and informal/traditional) and even the formal one is divided by two different laws -- the Islamic Shari’a law and the modern civic law. These need to be reconciled, and the authorities need to be significantly trained on these issues. The initiation of mechanisms to transmit law related information within the judicial sector is important for the effectiveness national laws. Furthermore, a bar association of lawyers and merit based recruitment of lawyers in long-term will be the key for the effectiveness of the judicial system –- this will also solve the problem of ineffective leadership, if the leaders in the judicial sector are not hired on a political basis in future.

The Afghan judicial sector needs to incorporate all elements of applied justice practices to establish revised common legal standards for the judiciary. This should include the incorporation of the Shari’a law, the informal or customary law (Jirga/Shura – a traditional tribal justice system), the existing interim legal framework and international human rights and other legal standards. The incorporation of Shari’a in the legal standards is important because majority of Afghans prefer Islamic law as a mechanism for dispute resolution; available literature shows that the traditional Jirga and Shura dispute resolution mechanisms are more frequently used than the formal state laws and justice system. This confirms that both the Shiri’a and the traditional judicial practices lay at the heart of the normative order of the judicial sector. However, misinterpretation of the Shari’a law and local customary justice practices sometimes conflict with the state law and international standards. Therefore, an association of Islamic scholars and legal experts should be established to revise the customary and Shiri’a law for their incorporation into the state law.[21]

The Afghans prefer not to resolve their disputes in formal institutions.[22] In this scenario, the establishment of a judicial system that encourages the effective utilization of exiting mechanisms becomes mandatory. The GoA and the international donors have accepted that “the two internal dimension of post-war justice in Afghanistan (popular Islam and Jirga/Shura) are located at the heart of the normative order of Afghan society and are central to its justice system. This modal could be established by basing a revised law on the basis local values, customs and traditions and international obligations.”[23] The modal of Ali Wardak could be best utilized for this purpose. This modal at district level introduces the establishment of a human rights unit and a Jirga unit to work closely with the district administration in order to resolve minor issues via the traditional Jirga system, while channeling others through the court of justice.

The Issue of Corruption

The GoA ranks amongst the five most corrupt countries in global corruption indexes.[24] The GoA, responding to the increased criticism of international community, has established different mechanisms to curb corruption. This includes the High Office of Oversight for the Implementation of Anti-Corruption Strategy “with the power to investigate the police, courts, and the attorney general’s office, and to audit the overseas asset holdings of Afghan officials.”[25] A comprehensive roadmap strategy for action against corruption has been established by key international actors for the GoA. [26]

Although different strategies and mechanisms have been placed and anti-corruption tactics have been applied, the trend of corruption has been increasing tremendously. A study conducted on corruption in Afghanistan argues that mainly lack of sanctions and law enforcement has lead to the increase in corrupt practices. The same study shows that the judicial sector (41%) and other security sector (20%) are amongst the highest corrupt institutions.[27] In this case, how would sanctions be enforced, if the above mentioned law enforcement departments are the most corrupt institutions?

The analysis in this paper reveals that the problem of corruption is more of an institutional and leadership problem. Until the right kind of incentive mechanisms are established, institutional reforms are applied and effective leadership is in place, the success of anti-corruption initiatives would be infeasible. To this end, for the time being, anti-corruption measures, such as strengthening civil societies, raising awareness via media, and aiming at behavioral change through religious education could build the ground for reform programs.


The amount of financial resources allocated to curbing corruption in Afghanistan, particularly to the police sector, are not likely to substantially increase in the future. Therefore, the efficient use of what resources are available is critical for the well-being of the country.

Failures of the GoA and donor community could be well justified by the three decades of war that has led to the distraction of both the human and physical capital of Afghanistan. In this scenario, successes could be challenging, however, if appropriate policies are in place, greater results could be achieved. The security sector experience clearly demonstrates a need for a holistic approach that integrates good governance, law enforcement and economic development. Furthermore, without empowering the GoA to lead the sectoral initiatives, long-term successes in the security sector will be non-existent.

The current situation in Afghanistan is critical and the GoA and international donors must learn from past reform initiatives before all Afghans lose faith in the government and start supporting the AGEs. One key lesson that can be learned from the past reform activities is to horizontally approach the security sector. If MoI is not reformed, reforms cannot be introduced to the police departments. Similarly, in the judicial sector, without effective reforms in the Ministry of Justice, the Attorney General’s Office and the Chief Justice Office, reforms at local courts will not be of any significant effect. Subsequently, if these reforms are of no effect, anti-corruption measures should not be expected to be of any significant effect either.

[1] Katzman, Kenneth . “Afghanistan: Government Formation and Performance.” CRS Report for Congress. Order Code: RS21922. Oct 2008.

[2] United Nations General Assembly. “The Situation in Afghanistan and Its Implications for International Peace and Security. Mar. 2008. Page 1.

[3] Supra note 1

[4] Supra note 1

[5] Ball, Nicole. “Democratic Governance in the Security Sector. For: UNDP workshop on learning from experience of Afghanistan.” Center for International Policy (Washington DC) – Center for International Development and Conflict Management, University of Maryland. Feb 2002.

[6] Wilder, Andrew. “Cops or Robbers? The Struggle to Reform the Afghan National Police.” Afghanistan Evaluation and Research Unit. July 2007. Page 4

[7] Ibid – Page 12

[8] Supra note 6 – Page 11

[9] Supra note 6 – Page 34-37

[10] Supra note 6 – Page 17

[11] Supra note 6 – page 17

[12] Supra note 6 – page 17

[13] Supra note 6 – page 35

[14] Supra note 6 – Page 45-48

[15] Supra note 6 – page 39

[16] Supra note 6 – page 57

[17] Nojumi, Neamatollah. Mazurana, Dyan. Stites, Elizabeth. “After the Taliban – Life and Security in Rural Afghanistan.” Part 3: Rural Afghans and Systems of Justice. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. 2009.

[18] Ibid

[19] Supra note 17

[20] Supra note 17

[21] Wardak, Ali. “Building a Post-War Justice System in Afghanistan.” University of Glamorgan, UK. 2002.

[22] Ibid – Page 337.

[23] Supra note 23 – Page 333

[24] “2008 Corruption Perception Index.” Transparency International.

[25] Supra note 1 – Page 3

[26] Asian Development Bank, UK Department for International Development, UNDP, UN Office on Drugs and Crime Control, the World Bank. “Fighting Corruption in Afghanistan – A Roadmap for Strategy and Action.” Feb 2007.

[27] Gardizi, Mardizi. “Afghanistan’s Experience of Corruption. A Study Across Eight Provinces.” Integrity Watch Afghanistan and United Nations Development Program. 2007. Page 9 -11

Sharif Azami