Professionalizing the Afghan Police Force
Wayne Martin rarely completes an interview without having to assure that the sound of rapid gunfire reverberating over the phone line is not being directed at him. “We’re not under attack,” he says from his office in the Afghan city of Kandahar. “It’s just a night firing exercise.”
Martin, a superintendent with the RCMP and the senior police advisor to Canada’s Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in the province of Kandahar, is tackling a complicated task: helping Afghans build a professional, civilian police force in a country where government forces and regional warlords have traditionally meted out justice and granted security.
“The police force is at a very delicate stage,” Martin admits. “It’s suffered through years of neglect, and like every other government institution it’s been severely weakened. The police were like a paramilitary organization — and still are to a certain extent — and we and our partners are trying to create a ‘professionalized’ type of policing.”
The RCMP mandate is to establish relationships with the various Afghan police services — the Afghan National Police (ANP), the Border Police (ABP) and the National Highway Police (ANHP) — and serve as their contact point with the PRT, monitoring activities and providing mentorship and training where possible.
“We’re working with them to establish a baseline of where they are and where we need to go,” Martin says. “The Germans (who lead police reform in Afghanistan under ISAF) have done a lot in Kabul with regard to reorganization, and the Americans are mentoring at the senior management level. But here in Kandahar, the second largest city, we see the greatest need at the substations. Sometimes it’s as simple as putting boots on their feet because they’re doing foot patrols in flip-flops; getting them flashlights or warm clothing. We also plan to help with the infrastructure in some of the substations, which are in poor repair. We have done firearms training, motorcycle training and, with our military counterparts, improvised explosive device training — how to appropriately respond, cordon off the area, and preserve evidence. We’re also delivering seminars on arrest procedures and the handling of prisoners.”
For security reasons, Martin and his partner, Corporal Bob Hart, must coordinate all travel with a Canadian Forces detail, complicating their ability to associate with local police. Together with the force protection group, they regularly conduct joint foot patrols with the ANP, using the opportunity not only to discuss the concerns of commanders and their officers, but also to chat with merchants and others on the street. “When you speak to the people, the three things that always come to the forefront in their list of concerns are: security, agriculture and transportation. This is an agrarian society and they know they won’t be able to get their goods to market without security and transport.”
Every meeting, however, begins with a cup of tea. “They always want you to sit and have tea; there’s a great social ritual that goes along with all this; you have to be prepared to sit and take the time to do that.”
Though Martin and Hart have served only three months of their one-year mandate, already they believe they’re making progress. “It takes time to gain trust, to forge a relationship. I’m just starting now to establish a relationship with the provincial chief of police,” Martin says. “We’re both starting to be more open and frank. We obviously don’t always agree on things but we understand each other. He’s in a hurry to get things accomplished because things have languished for so long and he wants it fixed now.”
The RCMP has a long history of training abroad. Since 1989, over 2000 officers have participated in 35 international police peacekeeping missions, including Namibia, former Yugoslavia, Haiti, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Guatemala, Kosovo, East Timor and the Ivory Coast.
Since June 2003, the RCMP has also provided a senior police advisor to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). In September, Supt John Nikita became the third officer to deploy to Kabul to work with the various contingents of the UN, the ANP and the Minister of the Interior.
Martin was deployed in Haiti for 11 months in 1999 and believes his experience there is paying dividends in Afghanistan. “I’ve learned some things that I’m trying to apply here. You don’t create a cultural change overnight. If we’re going to be successful — not just from a policing point of view, but from the perspective of preventing Afghanistan from collapsing back into a failed state — we have to be in it for the long term. I think we learned that in Haiti. The situation had just started to improve in the three to five years that the international community was there, and then the international community turned its back for a period, and now Haiti has fallen back even further. And that would happen here if the international community is not in it for the long haul.”
Martin believes more is accomplished in incremental steps, working hand-in-hand with the locals rather than using outside forces to meet an end goal. “It’s a matter of saying, ‘we will do this for you, but in return you have to do this for yourself. Once you have demonstrated that you have done that, then we’ll move on to what’s next.’ It’s a matter of the Afghans taking responsibility for themselves and their country. Somebody said, and I love the quote, ‘We can’t love this country more than they do.’ That’s very simple but it’s true.
“You also have to be willing to let them do it — you monitor, you advise — but let them do things their way, let them lead and we support the direction they lead. In principle, we’re all moving in the same direction anyway. Afghanistan has expressed a desire to move toward a democratic style of government, to a civilianized and professionalized police force, and our job is to help them get there.”