This week, the New York Times reported that 32 officers of the Afghan National Police (ANP) in the Kunduz province are under suspicion in an ongoing investigation for corruption and ties to the Taliban. The report details harrowing crimes committed by police in Kunduz, including the kidnapping of children and rape of the citizens they are meant to protect.
These allegations of police corruption and alliances with Taliban bear out concerns—highlighted in my working paper—about the ability of the Afghan police forces to maintain safety with the U.S. drawdown and the implications of the security transition for Afghan women and girls specifically. The time has come for Afghanistan to develop the capacity to provide security for themselves. An extended U.S. military presence would only hamper Afghanistan’s journey toward self-sufficiency in the security sector.
Yet the question remains: without active and direct U.S. involvement in Afghanistan’s security, are the ANP and other Afghan security actors up to the task of maintaining a safe and stable public sphere?
Security in the public space is particularly critical for women and girls. During the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, women and girls were barred and intimidated from participating in many sectors of society. Since the fall of the Taliban, Afghan women and girls have made huge gains in education, employment, and political participation. Yet in order for continued strides in gender equality, stability and security on the ground is vital.
Maintaining a safe public space for all Afghan citizens—and ensuring women and girls have the space to grow—requires a competent and professional civilian police force. Weeding out corruption in the ANP is a start, but there is more that the Afghan government can do to improve its police force. By professionalizing the police force, properly testing and vetting police leadership, and providing officers adequate pay and benefits, future officers will be less susceptible to corruption. Furthermore, the government should work to broaden the inclusion of female officers in the police force—of the ANP’s over 150,000 staff, just over 1,500 are women—and police training programs should focus on respect for human rights, including women’s rights.
Building a professional police force with the ability to protect the public space is important not only for women and girls, but for Afghanistan as a whole. And the positive effects of stability in Afghanistan do not stop at the border. More broadly, Afghan security, stability, and prosperity are necessary for counterterrorism and security efforts in the region and, ultimately, U.S. national security interests.