Bringing the Police Closer to the People
Farza, Kabul Province: Colonel Noor Aqa Ibrahimkhail, the district Chief of Police for Farza, located 45 kilometres north of Kabul, is a veteran officer who has experienced many brushes with violence and unrest throughout his career. But compared to his previous postings, he says, Farza is a haven of peace and tranquility.
“The main difference here is that the citizens listen to their elders. The messages we convey to the elders are easily accepted by the whole community. This is amazing—I have not seen it anywhere else,” he says.
- Because of community outreach and regular meetings with Colonel Ibrahimkhail, security has improved significantly in Farza.
- Police have improved security for girls in schools, clinics and other government institutions.
- Citizens say there is less stealing and robbery in Farza.
In September 2009, the Government of Afghanistan, supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), started reaching out to communities in eight northern districts in Kabul province to strengthen ties between police officers and regular citizens. The districts of Kabul city, Mirbachakot, Kalakaan, Guldara, Deh Sabz, Qarabagh, Shakar Dara and Istalif were the first to benefit from the outreach. The Police-e-Mardumi, or community-policing initiative, forms part of Afghanistan’s most recent national police strategy, and is supported by Switzerland and the United States.
Indeed, in the overall backdrop of general public distrust and limited engagement between the police and public, the Farza model of community-policing is showing the way in rebuilding the image of the police as protectors with a human face. The scope to strengthen rule of law in Afghanistan is immense, with the project already at work in Kabul, Herat and Jalalabad, and plans to expand throughout 60 districts and 15 provinces.
Both the police and public require extensive training to embrace the concept of community-oriented policing. The process of building public trust started by introducing the local police to community leaders, including elected members of community development councils and district development assemblies, religious leaders, and the local shura, a traditional assembly of tribal elders and religious scholars.
Haji Mohammad Hanif, the Malik—or head—of Qalai Salim Khan village in Farza, says that thanks to the Police-e-Mardumi (community outreach) initiative and regular meetings with Colonel Ibrahimkhail, security has improved significantly in Farza. This has helped speed up construction of basic infrastructure across the district, such as roads, schools and health centres across the district.
“Our weekly meetings with the district governor and the police chief have provided a forum to report on threats, analyze insurgent activity and find common solutions,” he explains.
Raz Mohammad, a local shop-keeper, agrees with his village head, Haji Mohammad Hanif.
“Unlike other parts of the country, we have never had to shut down our businesses because of incidents of crime or violence,” Mohammad says. “Not in the last year, at least. The credit must go to the role played by our community elders and the local police who work together to make peace an everyday reality in Farza.”
The main security challenge for Farza comes from its geographical location. The district is surrounded by mountains and with scattered troop deployment it is easy for the Taliban to occupy one of the hilltops nearby and mount attacks on the district. Indeed, the Taliban maintains a huge presence in a conflict-ridden district west of Farza.
Over the last five months, Taliban fighters have planted mines in inhabited areas, but thanks to the cooperation of young community members, the mines were identified and defused before exploding. The police chief credits close ties between the police and communities for these small but significant security gains.
“The good thing about our community-police solidarity in Farza is that we all know each other,” says Dr. Bahloul, a respected community elder who goes by one name. He says women’s issues are regularly discussed in district-level meetings.
“We have shura (traditional) councils at the village level that have women’s representation. The council representatives in the district committee direct the attention of district officials to issues raised by women,” he explains.
The community elders agree that the police have improved security for girls in schools, clinics and other government institutions. There are four high schools for girls, five middle-level and six junior-level schools serving Farza’s population of 61,000 people. At a local health centre, women even work the night shifts.
While the community elders and Ulemas (religious leaders) have assisted the Government in dealing with petty crime and securing progress in development, there is a need to equip the police with proper weapons and training so that external threats to peace efforts in the district can be dealt with more effectively, explains Haji Mohammad Hanif.
Citizens claim that stealing and robbery occur less frequently.
The Government of Afghanistan is favoring this new approach to policing. At a recent meeting with foreign embassy officials in Kabul, Minister of Interior Ghulam Mujtaba Patang called for a move towards a civilian police force that includes unarmed officers, a move that would help “decrease the distance between the population and the police.”