Police commanders in Kandahar say their staff have not been paid for months and that equipment and supplies have not been resupplied by the central government since before the elections. Local officers are
On the edge: local police in Kandahar man a checkpoint. (Photos: Nang Durrani. Cartoon: Uzra Shamal)
In the village of Lam in troubled Kandahar Province, local police say they are on the verge of selling their stockpiles of weapons and joining the Taliban if they don't urgently receive their backdated salaries. NATO and the US have invested billions to equip and train Afghan National Police (ANP) in the last 13 years, yet in Kandahar security officials say they are forced to beg for bread and sell weapons to feed their families.
“In our station, there are 33 heavy and light armaments,” says Akhtar Mohammad Khaksar, 32, the chief of police in Lam. “If the central government delays our salaries any further, we will start selling these weapons to get some money to feed our families,” a desperate Khaksar told Afghanistan Today.
Khaksar says the 21-men he commands will soon desert if the government doesn't urgently pay backdated salaries. “If nothing good comes their way, they will join the Taliban whom they currently fight,” says Khaksar despondently.
The situation is equally drastic in other district police stations in Kandahar. Abdul Khaliqh, a 44-year-old officer in Khakriz district, says many of his colleagues have already defected to the Taliban. Khaliqh, the breadwinner in a family of 13, says he has been forced to borrow from local shops to survive. “We have turned to begging for bread,” says Khaliqh, who has been involved in fierce battles with Taliban insurgents for the last two years, but says “hunger, thirst and the cold” are the most testing enemy he has faced.
In the line of fire
Many local police in Kandahar say they will be forced to sell their weapons and join the Taliban unless the government urgently pays their salaries.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Interior Affairs (MoFA) says reports of mass desertions are exaggerated however. “Reports of weapons being sold and defections to the Taliban are false,” says Sedid Seddiqi. “We have conducted and completed a thorough investigation into this and our findings show that these local police forces are loyal to the country and its people.” Seddiqi says “the election somehow delayed the delivery of salaries and equipment” and that these will be distributed “soon”.
Reports from the ground paint a far grimmer picture. One Kandahar police commander says his men have received no salaries “for months” and that ammunition, heavy artillery and supplies have not been delivered as promised by the central government. “If I'd known this day would have come, I would never have made the Taliban a sworn enemy of my family,” says Abdul Star, commander of local police in Arghandab district. Star says he and the unit he commands are now tainted by their work and are forced to carry on fighting simply to defend their families. More than 120 local police have been killed in clashes with Taliban groups this year alone in Kandahar Province, according to official police figures. Others face daily dangers. “Every single one of these officers receives death threats from the Taliban,” Mohammad told Afghanistan Today.
Military analysts believe the lack of morale among Kandahar local police forces is due to inadequate training. “The main motive for doing this job was the money they received,” says retired Colonel Obidullah Khan Alokozai from Arghandab district. “ If they don’t receive their salaries on time, there will be no doubt that these local armed personnel will become robbers, or join the Taliban groups.” Colonel Obidullah's warning has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. In the Arogh region of Khakriz district, six local police recently surrendered to the Taliban, selling their station's weapons to negotiate their own lives.
Cycle of militancy
Kandaharis say police forces are involved in harassment and intimidation of the local population. Most of the hired officers have ties to former militants, say observers, meaning the potential of a return to armed insurgency is never far away for new recruits. Others however say local police have been vital in keeping villages safe from attacks by armed insurgents.
At the Lam police command unit, Commander Khaksar is still waiting for his men's salaries to be paid. “We cannot rule out the possibility that they will join insurgent groups or sell their weapons before quitting the job,” says Khaksar. Sedid Seddiqi, spokesman for the MoFA, says there are currently 2500 Afghan National Police serving in Kandahar. The government is planning a recruitment drive to raise the number of officers and fill the void left by desertions and casualties.