For the first time in the last two decades, Afghanistan’s National Police (ANP) is going through a comprehensive and systemic reform process. This mission is complicated and challenging. The synergy of national and international efforts to build, improve, and sustain civic and modern policing in the country intersects with the continued cycles of violence and conflict, exhausting resources at strategic and tactical levels. A sterile modus operandi has long impeded organizational and structural reforms of the ANP.
Fortunately, on General Massoud Andarabi’s watch, the current leadership of the Ministry of Interior (MoI) is, on many levels, engaged in rethinking the ANP’s status with Afghanistan’s National Security and Defense Forces – the function, strategic direction and organizational culture of the police.
At the strategy level, the MoI is focused on pivoting the ANP toward its constitutional and professional mandate which is to protect lives and property, enforce law and order, as well as respond to calls for police services across cities and districts. Building professional capacity for the police to deliver a legal and constitutional mandate has required strategic thinking, planning, and implementation. To that end, the MoI developed a reform strategy that included sequencing structural changes, tackling corruption, countering narcotics, improving police behavior, and enhancing strategic communications with citizens and stakeholders.
Addressing the ANP foundational problems
A comprehensive organizational review of the police was conducted in 2019. The review helped us to identify longstanding organizational disarray, unresponsive bureaucratic stoppages, organizational overlaps, legal and procedural ambiguities, and a lack of human resources to carry out the mission of policing in our communities across the country. The findings of the review guided us to devise policies to address underlying sources of problematic procurement, controversial recruitment including the issue of ghost soldiers, as well as a lack of reliable inventory systems for logistics and ammunition.
Implementing the reform policies has significantly improved the procurement, recruitment and service deliveries to our soldiers. More work needs to be done, of course. We are not satisfied with the overall state of affairs. It is far from being perfect. For the first time, however, our soldiers are better served, regularly paid, and are more respected and heard than any time in the last 19 years. Our wounded soldiers and the families of martyred police forces are not abandoned anymore. Making sure that they are treated responsibly is our highest moral and professional duty.
Given the numerous problems that we face, including a war that drags all forces in and brutally absorbs most of the police institutional energy and resources, the ANP, after all, is becoming functional, although slowly. The ongoing reforms will put in place systems and infrastructure that will serve as the foundation of Afghanistan’s police once violence is reduced and the police can return to its civic law enforcement mission. Therefore, at the core of our efforts at the MoI stands the need to increase strategic thinking and leadership capacity to deal not just with the routine of policing tasks, but to attune the ANP into embarking on a program of large scale and uninterrupted reforms.
For instance, the MoI is now equipped with the technological tools and management systems, including a geographic information system (GIS), that enables us to identify, support, and connect to all of our outposts across Afghanistan. The inclusion of technology into ANP counterterrorism operations has considerably improved our operational capacity and reduced the percentage of police casualties over the last 12 months.
Moreover, in the process of reforming the ANP’s administrative structure, we have directed resources to create a specialized set-up to investigate and counter corruption within the ANP. Our newly established internal security division has so far investigated more than 1,000 corruption cases of police soldiers and officers. We believe that transparency will increase the trust of the people and donors in the police.
We have also made significant progress in increasing financial savings and controlling the reasonable use of ammunition. In the last fiscal year, the MoI has saved more than 2.7 billion Afs in logistics, 3 billion Afs in salary payments and 700 million Afs in other administrative costs. Fortunately, the amount of ANP logistic deliveries has increased by 650 tons in the last years. That includes the delivery of food, ammunition, policing equipment, clothing, and other required materials.
On a strategic level, the MoI is engaged in strategic communication with police stakeholders and citizens. The coordination and synergy between countering crime units and law enforcement agencies vis-à-vis citizens is a new and enriching experience. ANP’s response to people’s complaints has hugely improved. We are enhancing the operational capacity of hotlines-- 119 nation-wide and 100 Kabul-focused—which provide 24/7 access, among other functioning mechanisms, for the public to respond to the police.
There are other means of communication with the public, such as WhatsApp chat groups with community representatives, ulemas, professionals, business owners, and members of civil societies and media. The level of our engagement with the media has been unprecedented in the last two years.
The mission of reforming the MoI has yet to be completed. The MoI requires uninterrupted reforms, smart investment, and visionary leadership. The foundation is laid out but it needs further work to make the MoI a transformed institution.
Bahar Mehr is Strategic Communication Advisor to the Ministry of Interior Affairs and Afghanistan-Pakistan region security analyst. He has translated few books from English to Farsi/Dari and he is a columnist to leading Afghan daily newspapers.
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