Strengthening the Rule of Law in Afghanistan

Police and Judicial Sector Need Reform

A House committee hearing on oversight of U.S. efforts to train and equip Afghan police calls for suggestions on the best way to improve law enforcement in the country.

New members of the Afghan National Police march in a graduation ceremony in Kabul in May, 2008. (AP/Rafiq Maqbool)
New members of the Afghan National Police march in a graduation ceremony in Kabul in May, 2008. (AP/Rafiq Maqbool)

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s National Security and Foreign Affairs Subcommittee will convene next Wednesday to evaluate current U.S. efforts to train and equip Afghanistan police and strengthen the justice system in the country. Over 925 Afghan police were killed in the year 2007 alone, and this hearing comes on the heels of an insurgent attack on Sunday in which a police convoy was attacked in central Afghanistan, killing 11 police officers and wounding one.

The Afghan police force is one of the most visible faces of the government at the local level, and its survival and success will be critical to the Afghan state’s continued viability and eventual independence from international security dependency—a fact that Taliban insurgent commanders recognize.

The U.S. military launched a plan in March to improve Afghanistan’s national police force, but Maj. General Robert Cone, who is in charge of training, has estimated that it will take years to complete that training. Low pay for the officers has led to corruption among the ranks of the force. And Cone has admitted there are simply not enough U.S. military trainers to transform the police force in a reasonable period of time.

As the Center for American Progress outlined in its report last year, “The Forgotten Front,” there are several steps that the United States and international community partners can take to reform and improve the Afghan police force and judicial system. These would include taking anti-corruption measures in the Ministry of Interior, providing more military trainers for the police, establishing civilian mentors for the force, recruiting more women, and supporting a national judicial sector strategy.

The Afghan national police force is run by the Ministry of Interior, which is corrupt and ineffective. Dealing with corruption in the police force and the Ministry will require strengthening the Ministry’s anti-corruption unit in the Internal Affairs department.

The succession of differing approaches taken by international partners involved in police reform has further complicated police training. A coherent strategy needs to be created—one that recognizes that in certain regional areas, such as the South, the police may need more paramilitary training and better equipment. This should be supplemented with increased numbers of military trainers from the United States and international partners.

The international community must also provide more civilian mentors for the police force and the Ministry of Interior. The international community and the Afghan government should create national-level and provincial community police liaison boards to advise and inform the police on community needs, as well as create an independent police ombudsman to investigate abuse.

The United States and the international community also need to recruit more women into the police force. This will allow the Afghanistan National Police to better address family and domestic disputes and assist female Afghans in general. Afghan women desperately need greater access to legal channels, and the United States should support the efforts of the United Nations and others to document sexual and gender-based violence, provide legal advice to Afghan women, and create referral centers for reporting abuses and prosecuting perpetrators.

Afghans will only view their government as legitimate if it provides rule of law. The lawlessness and corruption of the Afghan government are often cited by Afghans as reasons for their disillusionment with the Afghan government and their growing sympathy for the Taliban. To deal with this problem, the United States should assist in the creation and support of a judicial sector strategy for addressing the absence of the rule of law.

The Afghan government committed to develop a national judicial sector strategy at the conclusion of the July 2007 Rome Conference on the Rule of Law in Afghanistan.This included an international donor commitment of approximately $360 million to support the effort. The United States and other countries should follow up and meet their commitments.

The Afghan government and its people are ultimately responsible for their country, and the United States cannot maintain an indefinite presence there. The jump in insurgency attacks this year is a wake-up to call the United States to focus on improving Afghan security and avoiding further decline. Unless the police and judicial systems are strengthened within Afghanistan as part of a larger framework of counterinsurgency, the country risks a complete decline into a failed state providing a safe haven for Al Qaeda and other terrorist networks. In the interest of its own national security as well as its allies, the United States cannot allow this to happen.

For more on the Center’s policies for Afghanistan, please see:

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