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Assuring security in Afghan local communities has been one of the top priorities of the International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) in Afghanistan. To achieve this goal, the US-led coalition forces have launched several local defence programs aiming to stabilize unsecure communities. Following to the unsuccessful paramilitarisation efforts under the names of Afghan National Auxiliary Police (ANAP) in 2006 and Afghan Public Protection Program (AP3) in 2008, the United States Special Operation Forces (USSOF) has began to conduct Village Stability Operation (VSO), a bottom-up approach that seeks to involve community inhabitants in enhancing security and local governance. As a result, the Afghan Local Police (ALP) program, one of the core pillars of VSO, have been initiated by USSOF and officially endorsed by the Karzai government in mid-August, 2010. One of the severe consequences of such short term initiatives has been a less developed and less reformed security sector, including its weak ANA and ANP pillars, in more than a decade of multi-donor intervention in Afghanistan.
The ALP is designed to arm a limited number of Afghan villagers to protect their communities from the Taliban and other anti-government elements. ALP militias are being deployed in villages where Afghan National Police (ANP) do not operate. Each ALP unit contains approximately 30 militiamen that are supposed to be selected from their own villages through the community councils led by local elders. ALP members are responsible to supply their own weapons (AK47s); however, these weapons must be registered with the Afghan Ministry of Interior (MoI). At the time of writing, the Chief Commander of Afghan Local Police at MoI has confirmed validity of 13,000 ALP/militias across the country. It is expected that this figure will be increased up to 30,000 in next 2-5 years. However, Zoe Leffler, EU’s Attaché for Justice, Rule of Law and policing in Afghanistan, in an interview with the author talked about “rumours of increasing ALP up to 50,000 by the end of 2014, however, this report is not confirmed by any American official.”
The ALP program that looks charming in theory has faced a number of long-term threatening challenges in practice. Contrary to expectations, ALP members have used their guns and US Special Operation Forces (USSOF) patronage to engage in human rights abuses such as rape, arbitrary detentions, forcible land grabs, and other criminal acts, just to name a few of them. (HRW Report, Sept 2011). In addition, this initiative has technically undermined other pillars of Security Sector Reform (SSR, especially police reform, in Afghanistan. At the policy level it caused frustration for most of the European allies, particularly for the police reform leader, Germany. Mr. Micha Ramakers from a EU delegation that serves as a hub streamlining EU’s Interventions in Afghanistan including EU’s Afghan Police Mission, expressed his concern in an interview with author, asserting that “paramilitarisation programmes such as ALP and its precedents have highly blurred the line between civilian and military aspects of the police. Such interventions have led ANP to fight insurgents at the frontline.”
Moreover, the other aspect of the game sounds to be more dangerous than it looks to some intransigent security strategists in Afghanistan. A senior Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program (APRP) official in north of the country, who preferred to be anonymous, explicitly explained how he is shocked witnessing warlords’ loyalists being recruited to the ALP. He further explained the scenario detailing that “strongmen and warlords’ illegal militias are deliberately naming themselves as anti-government elements to the APRP program to be considered as reintegrees. This tactical move, guided by their warlord patrons, firstly qualifies them to receive APRP incentives and secondly increases their chances to be recruited at ALP units. However, such kind of recruitment strongly contradicts ALP recruiting procedures.” The informant added, “once the militias, loyal to local strongmen, legitimised themselves through the APRP channel, they are recruited as ALP and sent back to their villages based on political expediencies of their warlord supporters”. According to Gen. Ali Shah Ahmadzai, Chief of ALP at MoI, a normal ALP member receives a totally monthly salary of 9,200 Afs, however, monthly wage of an ALP team leader is up to 13,500 Afs.
From another perspective, some sources at Afghanistan High Peace Council (AHP) confirm presence of yet another type of paramilitary unit, Community Infrastructure Police (CIP), in Charbolak and Chemtal districts of Balkh province. The CIP neither fits under the structure of ALP nor ANP.
As a result of such short-term and counterproductive interventions, the notorious Afghan warlords are exploiting the weak vetting system of security sector institutions in Afghanistan to secure their political interests. As time passes, it is becoming clearer that manipulation of ALP members is augmenting warlords’ traditional approaches to use the government and international community to secure their personal, political and ideological preferences.
Above all, the main question is: What would happen if the funding flow to this highly donor-driven program is stopped? We must also ask, if ALP’s salaries are banned, what would 30,000 – 50,000 well-armed unemployed men do?