AFGHANISTAN: Who Do You Trust?
Teaching Afghan Police to Protect and Serve – the People
The Afghan National Police – infamous for their corruption – are, unfortunately, for most Afghans “the most visible face” of their government, says Army Capt. A Heather Coyne.
“Most people’s only interaction with police here is getting shaken down at a checkpoint,” Coyne told a recent (July 21) defense bloggers’ roundtable where she discussed her role in trying to improve the relationship between Afghans and their police.
Coyne is the liaison between the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan (NTM-A) and non governmental organizations (NGOs) – both international and locally-based ones such as human rights organizations, business and professional groups and student organizations.
A key to defeating the Taliban insurgency, ending the violence and starting Afghanistan on the road to recovery from decades of war and Soviet occupation is to get the people to trust their government agencies – particularly the police.
The Afghan National Police “just don’t have a mindset of protect and serve,” Coyne said in a conference call from Kabul, the Afghan capital. So she and colleagues at U.S. AID (the Agency for International Development), the U.S. embassy in Kabul, international NGOs and the U.N. Mission are trying to remove communications and trust barriers between police and the people.
The program, which began just this year, has started small in places like Helmand Province and Kabul. Local groups have met with police, urging them to slow down when they drive past schools and develop procedures for dealing with women crime victims, including an acceptable entrance and interview area at police stations for them – a key hurdle in a society where segregation of the sexes is usually strictly enforced.
There are signs attitudes may be shifting, Coyne says. One NGO has been training police in Kabul how to respond to domestic violence, and if an officer it’s trained does something good in their district, the NGO sends them a certificate of appreciation. But the surprising thing is that the police frame the certificates and hang them up in the police station. “It’s a sign they don’t want to be hated by their communities. They want to do the right thing,” she says.
“A lot of people may be wondering why we’re talking about school outreach and community consultation … in the middle of a war,” says Coyne, an Army reservist who, in civilian life, works at the U.S. Institute of Peace, a congressionally-funded organization to promote peaceful international conflict resolution.
But instead of waiting until security improves around Afghanistan, she believes “that these are exactly the things that will help improve security. ” Adding: “When people trust their police, they’ll be more willing to share intel [intelligence] about the bad guys, and when people feel that their security forces and the government are there to protect and serve, not to extort and abuse, they’ll be less likely to turn to the insurgency in the first place.”
One solution is to hire and train more women police officers. There are about 1,000 now and plans call for increasing that number to 5,000. In addition to dealing with domestic violence and other crimes involving women, female police officers will be needed as security at polling places. “Because if you have women coming to vote, they have to be patted down and you’re certainly not going to have a male policeman do that,” Coyne says.
She notes the general in charge of women’s affairs and human rights at Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry is holding a meeting next week “with all the women’s NGOs to try and brainstorm how could we help make this relationship work.”
To listen to the bloggers roundtable with Capt. Coyne or read the transcript, click here .
Entry filed under: Afghanistan, Counter Insurgency, National Security and Defense, Skills and Training. Tags: Afghanistan, Counter Insurgency, counter terrorism, nation building, NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan, soft power.