A recent visit to Kunduz has made some things painfully clear: the trust of the Afghan population in the international forces has been reduced to zero, the security situation has further deteriorated and even the Afghan authorities in Kunduz do not believe in building their own security apparatus - like the West is aiming for - anymore.
In recent years, the international forces have not been able to protect the Afghan population and with the dead of Osama Bin Laden, the planned withdrawal could accelerate. There is a big chance that quantity goes over quality regarding the training of Afghan soldiers and police. In Kunduz the people have already decided: they seek protection from local rulers and warlords, and not from the police or army. Estimations vary, but there would be 2.000 militants per district, and Kunduz has seven districts. These militias are guilty of several crimes against their own people and regularly skirmishes occur between rival militias. This is perhaps not that surprising, as the majority of the militias are led by warlords. The alienating thing about this situation is that the Afghan government actually supports these militias. Provincial authorities have taken up the following policy: some local militias are being declared legitimate by labeling them “Afghan Local Police”. That qualification opens the way for logistical support, provision of weapons and a small salary. This policy is a ticking time bomb and contradicts the Dutch view on security in the province. The Netherlands believes a difference can be made in Kunduz by training Afghan policemen for a longer period, and by enforcing guarantees that they will not engage in fighting. This is an unrealistic view, but even more galling is the fact that the Afghan government has put its money on the militias, which implicitly shows that they lost the monopoly on violence, if not already the case. It is likely that police officers, trained by the Netherlands, will end up fighting the Afghan Local ‘Police’.
For an aid organization working in Kunduz this is the setting to work in. Mind you, it is the Afghans who largely have to take the risks. The handful of foreign aid workers still working in Kunduz, do not risk the streets anymore. There is an anxious and tensed atmosphere among both the population and the aid workers. The kind of insecurity that is covered in the Dutch newspapers is not even the main factor which hinders our work. It is the daily practice of corrupt government officials, logistical problems because of insecurity, local power politics and a lack of funds that cause problems.
During the visit to Kunduz local authorities decided to close one of our biggest warehouses, without further notice. The stock consists of malaria bed nets which are being distributed throughout Northern Afghanistan. After mediation by the United Nations the authorities left the warehouse and our work could commence again. As it turned out later, the authorities had wanted money. This is an example only but it does show that representatives of the Afghan state, be it police, army or civil representatives, often are not, unfortunately, an enabling factor in our work, to put it mildly.
The fact that the Dutch government wants to invest in the quality of police training is of course a good idea, but the problem is that the training is not embedded in local politics dynamics. The Dutch government but also the German government tends to view improving the police force as a technical undertaking. Like more means, inputs and longer training could fight corruption and improve security. Such a view is naïve. No matter how high the means and how high the quality of the training, networks of patronage play a far bigger role in the functioning of government officials and services. Being asked who controls the police in Kunduz, no one would answer the police chief. It is widely acknowledged that vice president Fahim is pulling the strings in Kunduz. In conclusion, problems around police performance are politically grounded.
As long as the Dutch government approaches a political problem technically, the chances that police performance will improve are close to zero. This is a bitter conclusion because the people of Kunduz long for a safer environment and so do the aid workers.
Stefan van Laar – Context advisor with HealthNet TPO
Background: Cultural anthropology/non-Western sociology, development studies (post-doc).
Research and publications in the area of: military culture, civil-military relations, reintegration of ex-combats, Defense Diplomacy and Development approach and beach boys.