Afghanistan has been experiencing armed conflicts since the 1970s. Moreover, in the late 1980s, radical Islamist groups such as al-Qaida, the Taliban, and the Islamic State began to form. Violent conflict and foreign invasions have led Afghanistan to now face critical problems with poverty, high dependence on foreign aid, shortage of housing and jobs, and lack of other basic necessities. These problems, along with the Afghan Government’s difficulty in extending rule of law to all parts of the country, pose significant challenges for future economic growth and job creation, which inevitably leads to crime, insecurity, displacement and migration.
Nonetheless, there are at least two examples of community-policing in Afghanistan aimed at improving human security. The first one resulted from a collaboration between local police forces in Herat and EUPOL. They established local based police units, or police-e-Mardumi (PEM), which through a combination of community meetings, information centers, complaint boxes, and a Facebook page, is dedicated to localized democratic policing. PEM’s aim was to improve communication between communities and security forces and around 3000 police officers received PEM training from 2010-2016. A second example was implemented in the small northeastern city of Baharak, with the aim of creating ‘citizen councils’ to improve police behavior and strengthen police-community interactions. The outcome of this initiative was that community members were able to bring complaints and concerns to the police. It created a direct but anonymous link to report harassment, safety threats, and even concerns about police behavior. These positive examples establish a strong precedent for COP using low-end communication strategies along with newer social media platforms to promote community engagement.
Perceptions of security and insecurity
What constitutes insecurity for Afghans varies greatly depending on setting, gender, and socio-economic status. However, the main concerns faced by the general population are the extensive availability of illegal arms and widespread illegal armed gangs operating throughout the country. Aside from violent crimes, Afghans tend to regard unemployment as a major source of insecurity due to its relation with drug abuse and criminality. This is to be taken seriously given that there are localities where seven out of ten young people are unemployed.
Perhaps the most vulnerable groups in Afghanistan are women and girls. They suffer from domestic violence, sexual abuse, and honor related crimes, along with many other culturally associated discriminations, especially within the workforce. There is also a strong sense of insecurity among those who are vocal about political issues or are close to the government in some way. These people tend to fear the so called target killings by the radical groups. In a recent report, the Asia Foundation highlighted common occurrences in Afghanistan of physical attacks, livestock theft, suicide attacks, extortion, and murder. Less reported complaints include land grabbing and border related violence, particularly around the border with Iran. A noteworthy point is that in many rural areas the main sources of insecurity are commonly related to conflicts over resources such as water, rather than terrorist or criminal activity.
Security providers in Afghanistan can be divided into formal national, international, and informal. The formal national security providers are the Afghan National Police with its seven subdivisions, as well as the Afghan National Army. The formal international actors are the US-led Coalition force, which aids the Afghan government against insurgency, and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which also helps improve the country’s security situation. The informal security providers can also be divided into two factions: the warlords, or strongmen, and the neighborhood watch. Strongmen tend to serve as security providers for specific populations, however, they often have a dual role. They provide security, but also cause insecurities for a variety of reasons. On the other hand, the neighborhood-watch consists of local committees concerned with preventing crime. However, although they have been reported to help provide security, they do not target or prevent insurgency. There is also a variant of the neighborhood watch called the Chowkidari. The Chowkidari’s main purpose is to protect the market during the night, but not the residential area. The Chowkidari has a good relationship with the police. The two are known to cooperate in several ways, such as assigning or delegating tasks for each other. The Chowkidari does not receive payment for its services by the police, however, it receives a monthly fee from the shopkeepers it protects.
Current status of community-oriented policing
There is potential in Afghanistan for implementing successful community-oriented policing. The Chowkidari is an example of how Afghans are organizing their own security, while cooperating with the local police. Thus, COP would not be an entirely new concept in Afghanistan. Furthermore, the two COP initiatives implemented so far have yielded good results in improving communication between the community and the police, and building overall trust. Conversely, it should be noted that the significant gender gaps and high illiteracy levels of the population are a liability for implementing COP models, as it hinders inclusivity.
Source: ICT4COP Research, NMBU
Photo: Community policing conference, Badakhshan province, Afghanistan 2016