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The police look for explosives, guns and drugs around Kabul’s “Ring of Steel”. This is a line of 25 checkpoints encircling the capital of Afghanistan, set up as part of the European Union police training mission EUPOL in 2007. It is part of the effort in the transition from a para-military force to a civilian one aimed at serving the rule of law. It means changing mentalities in a country tormented by conflict for the last four decades.
Kabul policeman Amir Shah, an example of the new generation, said: “I want to serve my country to my last drop of blood. My family is happy with this.”
Police officers are main targets for insurgents here – the Taliban. Many ordinary Afghans fear the departure of NATO troops in 2014 will unleash a full-blown civil war. The cost of the police transition mission is around 60 million euros per year – ultimately provided by European taxpayers. At this Police Staff College in the last five years, 4,500 higher-ranking officers have received training including criminal investigation, fighting corruption and drug trafficking, community policing and human rights.
Defence Lawyer Edris Arib said: “The most important thing in which they are focusing on and that they would like to learn is about citizens’ rights: the rights of people, specifically – as we are teaching today – child rights and women’s rights. When we deliver about different types of violent crime, they receive it very well, and their ambition is to implement what they learn here, in Staff College, in their districts.”
Over the years, the police earned a reputation for brutality, incompetence, corruption and greed. After a decade of NATO presence, an elected government and billions of euros in international aid, things seem to be changing, but very slowly.
Sar-e Pol Police Head of Human Rights Baz Mohammad said: “The Police force is more respected now because there is increased cooperation with the citizens. People trust the Police. In the few cases where less knowledgeable officers have used violence, we have educated them and increased their awareness through special courses.”
Police staff also receive training with the NATO military, such as at this German-Dutch base in Kunduz. The practical exercises include re-enactments of crimes. Community policing and gender-related violence are among the top subjects taught.
Euronews correspondent Isabel Marques da Silva said: “For years, what the Afghan police did, basically, was repress serious violence and try to obtain confessions from criminals. Now they are training to question witnesses, collect evidence, prepare reports and share information with lawyers and prosecutors.”
In the 150,000-member Afghan force, there are almost no women. Those we see serve the coffee and do the cleaning.
EUPOL Afghanistan Head of Mission Karl Ake Roghe said: “We are now working together with United Nation Population Fund to recruit more female police officers to the police force. But not only to recruit female police officers: train them properly, equip them properly and also make sure that they are doing real police work when they finish their training.”
In a country where 87% of the women suffer some form of violence, according to the UN, a female commander is something out of the ordinary, yet the very popular programme “Commander Amanullah”, broadcast since January, has a woman playing the lead role.
Recently, filming was done in the office of the real commander of Kabul Police District 9.
Policewoman and director-star actress Saba Sahar said: “A lot of people do not know how to report their problems and how to solve them with the help of the police. This TV series we are making is to help educate people on how to share their problems with the police.”
EU Civilian Operations Commander Hansjorg Haber said: “We, as as mission can not do it. This would have to be a European Commission project or a project by one of our member states. We can tell the Afghans what to want, but we can not provide them with these pieces of equipment ourselves.”
Experts say years more training will be needed. But the EUPOL EU police mission in Afghanistan is to end in December 2014, when NATO troops are due to withdraw.