Policing Afghanistan

The Politics of the Lame Leviathan

February 2013 9781849042055 240pp


Policing is not a popular topic of serious scholarly research. Although a vast literature on policing exists, it is mostly technical in nature and only rarely analytical. Even the police forces of Western Europe and North America have rarely been investigated in depth as far as their history and functioning goes. In particular, the politics of policing, its political economy, have been largely neglected.

This book is a rare in-depth study of a police force in a developing country which is also undergoing a bitter internal conflict, further to the post-2001 external intervention in Afghanistan. Policing Afghanistan discusses the evolution of the country’s police through its various stages but focuses in particular on the last decade.

The authors review the ongoing debates over the future shape of Afghanistan’s police, but seek primarily to analyse the way Afghanistan is policed relative to its existing social, political and international constraints. Giustozzi and Isaqzadeh have observed the development of the police force from its early stages, starting from what was a rudimentary, militia-based, police force prior to 2001. This is a book about how the police really work in such a difficult environment, the nuts and bolts approach, based on first hand research, as opposed to a description of how the Afghan police are institutionally organised and regulated.

Table of contents



1. Introduction

Policing as the object of study

Policing in the context of state formation and state-building

Policing in history

Throwing light on the mystery of institution building

The Afghan context

2. Background: history of police in Afghanistan

The origins

To 1978

Structural development

Territorial and population control

Command and control

Rule of law and professionalisation


Politicisation and the first assault on meritocracy, 1978–9

A new institutional order, under Soviet patronage, 1979–92

State collapse and the second assault on meritocracy, 1992–6

Policing under the Taliban

3. Afghanistan’s police in 2002

A new year zero of policing

The early post-2001 political economy

4. The changing post-2001 operating environment

5. The uncertain impact of external assistance

Financial assistance

Training, mentoring and advising

The beginnings

The American wave

Impact of assistance

6. Internal organisation and reorganisation

Structural development




Cooperation with other government institutions

Investigative capabilities

Reporting and record keeping

Pay and retention


Competence and motivation


The corruption landscape

Case study: the ANP and illegal tolls


Ghost police

Fighting corruption

7. Recruitment and retention

The scarcity of professionals

Charismatic officers and patrons

Provincial dynamics: Balkh’s most durable stationary bandit

Façades of reform

Purges, clean-ups and patronage


Political affiliation



Criminal networking and corruption

8. The ultimate test of functionality: the paramilitary dimension

Commanding and controlling the police

The early days

Impact of improvement efforts

Persistent patrimonialism

Collaboration with the enemy

Alternative models?

Control of territory and population

The early days

Persistent weakness

Wasteful use of human resources

Reduction of coverage faced with the insurgency



9. The ambiguous impact of reform

The first wave of reforms and the difficulties of re-centralisation

Nature of the reforms

The centralisation effort vis-à-vis the strongmen

Provincial dynamics: Faryab province, 2004

Provincial dynamics: Kandahar province, 2005

Reform, counter-reform and external scrutiny

The Trojan horse which was not

The lone reformer at the top

Thermidor: from reform to technical improvements

The debate over paramilitary or civilian policing

Gender issues

Pay and rank reform

The rule of law

The Afghan Leviathan and the rule of law

External oversight and accountability

The foreigners’ influence

Abusive and arbitrary behaviour


Illegal detention

Arbitrary executions

Riot control

Community demands and rule of law

10. Provincial dynamics: a case study of Herat

Historical background

Police during Ismail Khan’s first rule over Herat (1992–5)

Police under the Taliban’s Emirate

Police during Ismail Khan’s second rule over Herat (2001–4)

Building a loyal police force

Command and control of the Police

Police corruption

Police in post-Ismail Khan Herat

Police and politics

Command and control

Political economy

Police corruption and criminal behaviour

Oversight of the police

11. Conclusion





‘This is the first serious, comprehensive and convincing account of how policing in Afghanistan really works. Giustozzi and Isaqzadeh’s impressive study of the political dynamics of Afghan policing extends the police-studies agenda and is essential reading for anyone interested in the political economy – or reform – of policing.’ — Alice Hills, Chair of Conflict and Security, University of Leeds, and author of Policing Post-Conflict Cities

Policing Afghanistan is the most comprehensive account to date of the history of policing in Afghanistan, especially of the critically important and yet highly problematic post-2001 efforts to rebuild an effective police force in Afghanistan. The book contains a wealth of details about the structure and organization of the police, recruitment and retention issues, and the various reform efforts of the past decade. The most useful contribution of the book, however, is that it looks at policing not simply from a technocratic perspective, which other studies of police reform efforts in Afghanistan have tended to do, but as an inherently political task. By placing police reform efforts in their political context, and examining the political economy of policing, this study provides a much clearer and compelling explanation for the successes and many more failures of internationally-driven police reform efforts in Afghanistan.’ — Andrew Wilder, Director of Afghanistan and Pakistan Programs, United States Institute of Peace, and author of Cops or Robbers? The Struggle to Reform the Afghan National Police

‘The reconstruction of the Afghan police, which lies at the heart of domestic security, is a crucial example of how a wrong priority can prevail from the outset, as this book impressively illustrates. … it not only provides a differentiated analysis of the current status of the project “rebuilding of police” in Afghanistan, but includes locally collected data and detailed examples of political actors’ logics in the country, which are rarely discussed in a general national overview. … Worth reading for both those who intend to gain a deeper knowledge of the complex field of Afghan politics and those who have an interest in topics such as intervention policies or police reform in general.’ — International Affairs



Mohammed Isaqzadeh holds an MPhil from Oxford University and teaches at the American University in Kabul. He is co-author of a paper on Afghanistan’s paramilitary policing.

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