Part of the Problem

BERLIN/KABUL | | afghanistan

BERLIN/KABUL (Own report) - Serious accusations are being raised in Afghanistan against the police that Germany had been responsible for establishing. According to a recent investigation by the United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), children and juveniles are being tortured in Afghan police custody, to the extent that only one in five juveniles reported not having been ill-treated while in custody. For more than six years, Germany has been the "leading nation" in the domain of setting up the Afghan police and has declared its intentions to rectify the irregularities. In fact the German authorities involved are not only cooperating with the notorious warlords, but are focusing the police training on counter-insurgency. The result is a barbarization of the forces of repression. Already back in the 1960s and '70s, serious accusations were raised against the Afghan police. Also at that time, it was West Germany that was taking care of training the Afghan police.

Systematic Torture

A recent investigation by UNICEF and the human rights organization, Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) have raised serious accusations against the Afghan police force.[1] It was an investigation of the situation of children in detention centers. They uncovered not only miserable conditions of incarceration and frequent violation of the maximum term of imprisonment for juveniles, but also massive violence on the part of the police. Only 21 percent of the juveniles reported they had not been ill-treated. 36 percent reported ill-treatment, 43 percent did not want to answer the question. In some cases this use of force produced serious injuries and in a few others, injuries of long duration. If "only 21% of the queried children and juveniles said: we were not tortured and ill-treated by the police, then we are talking about systematic torture," says Manfred Nowak, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture.[2]

Human Rights Violations

The results of these investigations confirm observations not only known in Afghanistan, but that have been openly debated even in Berlin. Already last summer, the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) reported serious ill-treatment at the hands of the Afghan police. According to SWP, the police have repeatedly been "accused of torture and other violations of human rights." Police are said to be implicated in the drug trade, taking bribes for the release of prisoners, pocketing illegal tolls at control points and more.[3] The population views the forces of repression "more as a part of the country's security problem than as a means for its solution." The accusations were repeated almost verbatim last summer.[4] This is serious, because Berlin took over the organization of the re-establishment of the Afghan police in 2002, without any improvement of the human rights situation. There were also no improvements after the EU took over responsibility for the development of the police in the summer of 2007. Up to a few days ago, the EU police mission in Afghanistan (EUPOL) was commanded by a German official.


The breakdown of police organization in Afghanistan is certainly not only attributed to negligence on the part of the officials involved. In their efforts to establish a pro-Western regime in Kabul, the West had to rely on supporters - and therefore entered alliances with various notorious warlords. As the SWP reports, this has had an effect on the re-establishment of the police. The SWP government advisors blame the puppet regime in Kabul for the fact that many "militia members of influential warlords and commanders" become "policemen". Once on the force they "abide by their own laws, while on duty," writes the SWP in reference to the arbitrary rule of armed bandits wearing police uniforms.[5] But the acceptance of these warlords is unthinkable without at least the quiet acquiescence of the occupying powers. The inauguration of the German police training center in Mazar e Sharif one week ago is a practical example.


According to an announcement by the German interior ministry, the decision to establish this facility had been reached by the German ambassador to Afghanistan - "along with the governor of the Balkh Province, Mr. Mohammed Atta."[6] The facility is destined to train up to 1,000 Afghan policemen per year. Governor Atta participated in the facility's cornerstone laying ceremonies on July 23. On a photo of the event, disseminated by the Foreign Ministry, in the ceremonies, he is seen standing directly beside Foreign Minister Steinmeier. Atta is one of the most powerful warlords in Northern Afghanistan. Up to early 2004, his militia was accused of serious crimes by Human Rights Watch. Shortly thereafter he rose to governor in Mazar e Sharif. From that point on, the West fell silent. Criticism continued to be expressed only by members of the Afghan opposition, who are now being threatened with death. "Over the past few years, 162 houses were illegally confiscated by [Atta's] regime, but no one dares to report this," explains one journalist, according to whom, a few months ago, a doctor was killed, "because he owned land in a section of the town that Atta wanted to have."[7] Another press representative protested that the occupation troops are "supporting a regime, comprised of criminals." In fact it is not only the foreign minister, who allows himself to be photographed with Atta, a warlord, who, according to UN authorities, is still implicated in the drug trade. Atta was invited by the Foreign Ministry to visit Berlin last May.


The training of the Afghan police force is focused, to a large extent, on counterinsurgency. Particularly the United States, but also Germany, are both pushing for appropriate measures to field as many local forces against the insurgents, as quickly as possible. The Afghan National Army, (ANA) as well as the Afghan National Police, (ANP) are being trained for this purpose. German training programs, often organized by the military police, include "inspecting persons and vehicles within the framework of checkpoint operations" and "recognizing booby traps and explosive devices."[8] The German military police is also instructing Afghan police in the proper use of AK-47 assault rifles.[9] These activities are not only documented in maneuver scenarios of the German Bundeswehr. For example, one can read in the description of a maneuver carried out last spring by German occupation troops: "During a raid operation, soldiers of the German Quick Reaction Force (QRF) are ordered to encircle the small town" while "ANP forces were ordered to carry out the raid inside the town."[10] German soldiers were killed last Monday while executing a similar action in Kunduz.

Not for the First Time

Afghan repressive forces are becoming increasingly brutal, especially through their dealings with notorious warlords and their participation in counterinsurgency. The consequences of this rising police brutality are documented in a study that has just been published by UNICEF and AIHRC. And it is not the first time that German training of the Afghan police has encountered heavy criticism.

Chief of Police

West German police instructors were working in Kabul long before the civil war. They arrived already in the mid-1950s.[11] When the United States terminated its support for the Afghan repressive forces, back at the beginning of the 1960s, West Germany dispatched an inspector of the regional riot police of the interior ministry to the Afghan capital. He functioned as a government advisor for police issues in the Afghan Interior Ministry and as the coordinator of the entire West German police assistance. This is how West Germany "got the country's entire field of police work under its administration" says the Afghanistan expert Martin Baraki.[12] In March 1974, Bonn could send an executive police superintendent to Kabul to serve for three years as police chief for all of Afghanistan. Afghan police officers, including officers of the political police, also received training in West Germany.

Caprice, Invectives, Beatings

Already back then, the West German trained Afghan police were confronted with accusations of ill-treatment. As Baraki writes, "arrests and detainments (...) were carried out even without a court order." Not just invectives and humiliation, but even "beating citizens for negligible reasons (traffic violations etc.)" was "general practice". But, in the eyes of the West, the Afghan police were dependable. When in 1978, a socialist government came to power in Kabul, the only state organs that rebelled against it were "those police units that had been trained by and in West Germany. Some of these Afghan police, who refused to accept the new conditions after 1978, left for West Germany or West Berlin," where they were hired "to corresponding positions on the police force."[13]

Please read also: On the Ruins of War, The Greens' local in Kabul, The Retreat Option, Hopeless, To Accomplish a Mission, Perspective of Withdrawal, Paramilitary, Human Intelligence and The Next War.

[1] Justice for Children. The situation for children in conflict with the law in Afghanistan; UNICEF, Oktober 2008
[2] Afghanische Polizisten foltern Minderjährige; Report Mainz 20.10.2008
[3] Ronja Kempin: Polizeiaufbau in Afghanistan; SWP-Aktuell 47, August 2007
[4] Peter Schmidt (Hg.): Das internationale Engagement in Afghanistan; SWP-Studie S23, August 2008
[5] Ronja Kempin: Polizeiaufbau in Afghanistan; SWP-Aktuell 47, August 2007
[6] Deutsches Polizei-Trainingscenter in Mazar-e Sharif eingeweiht; Pressemitteilung des Bundesministeriums des Innern 14.10.2008
[7] Reporter mit Kalaschnikow; taz 01.07.2008
[8] Für mehr Sicherheit; 01.02.2008
[9] see also Paramilitary
[10] QRF: Bestens ausgebildet und vorbereitet; 16.05.2008. See also Spezialkommandos
[11] Die genauen Zeitangaben schwanken. Sicher belegt ist die Tätigkeit deutscher Polizeiausbilder in Kabul ab 1957. Andere Quellen berichten von ersten Anfängen im Jahr 1955. Matin Baraki: Die Beziehungen zwischen Afghanistan und der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, 1945-1978, dargestellt anhand der wichtigsten entwicklungspolitischen Projekte der Bundesrepublik in Afghanistan, Frankfurt am Main u.a. 1996.
[12], [13] Matin Baraki: Die Beziehungen zwischen Afghanistan und der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, 1945-1978, dargestellt anhand der wichtigsten entwicklungspolitischen Projekte der Bundesrepublik in Afghanistan, Frankfurt am Main u.a. 1996