The police and security sectors are significant for combating threats to security and protecting citizens. Many countries globally are undertaking national police reforms to improve their ability to combat crime and ensure that there is efficient services delivery. However, most strategies put in place have been insufficient; leading to escalating threats and poor service delivery. Afghanistan is one of the countries that has been implementing various police strategies in an effort to restore public confidence in the delivery of its services. The Afghanistan reform programs have targeted the media, police organizations, grassroot activists, policy makers and civil society groups. Gross (2009) asserts that the reforms have led to substantial transformation of the police sector. However, the reforms have not restored public confidence, and have been associated with a lot of corruption. Despite the significant improvements in the sector, one could argue that the reformed police strategies in Pakistan over the past fifteen years have been insufficient, and are unsustainable.

Current Status

Afghanistan has for a long period lacked a strong and effective police force. The progress made within the 1970s was lost because of the war that followed in the next two decades. According to Murray (2007), the Taliban defeat in the wake of 2001 led to a power vacuum. O’neill (2005) suggests that this was exploited by anti-Taliban Northern Alliance commanders who filled most of the police forces with inexperienced and untrained private militias. Gross (2009) articulates that the main challenge in 2002 was to create an efficient police force from the untrained force with little infrastructure and equipment.

Currently, the police sector supported by about twenty-five states and various international organizations.The Afghan National Police is Afghanistan’s main police institution, and consists of: Afghan Uniformed Police, Afghan Border police, Afghan National Civil Order Police, and the Counter Narcotics Police of Afghanistan. According to Wilder (2007), a temporary force was established in 2006, the Afghanistan National Auxiliary Police, that was separate from the Afghan National Police. Its major role was offer support to counter-insurgency operations. Prenzler and Ransley (2002) suggest that the Afghan National Police is supervised by the Ministry of Interior. This ministry is also responsible for the supervision of district and provincial administration as well as the implementation of the country’s counter-narcotics policies.

Since 2006, the country has been increasing the number of its police force. For example, Hayes and Sedra (2008) found out that in 2013, the number of police officers had increased to 157,000 officers from 62,000 in 2006. This represents a growth of more than one hundred and fifty per-cent over the entire period. Prenzler and Ransley (2002) postulate that by the end of 2014, the number is anticipated to be about 160, 000 officers. It has also invested in training, and tried to create gender balance. The need for more policewomen was agreed after 2006 when only one hundred and eighty police officers were women of the sixty-three thousand officers.

Foundation for Reforms

Socio-political factors

Afghanistan police sector had overwhelming corruption and disorganization. It was common to find people with minimal qualifications and responsibilities holding senior ranks. This period was manifested by total mismanagement hence people utilized bribery and other forms of corruption to get prominent positions in the police sector. As a result, Prenzler and Ransley (2002) point out that service delivery was poor, ineffective and inefficient.

Moreover, many administrators within the Interior Ministry violated human rights and were involved in corruption. Corruption, disorganization and human rights violations were the socio-political factors that made people demand for reforms within the sector. As a result, there was need to repair and reorganize the ailing ministry.

Protection of the local population in rural areas has been one of the main challenges in Afghanistan. The country realized that if it protected its local population well, it could deal with the problem of insecurity more efficiently. However, this could only be possible through increasing the ratio of police personnel per the number of people. It, therefore, established that for every fifty people, one security personnel was required. Subsequent efforts in reforming the police sector incorporated this concept. Despite not achieving the target, significant improvements have been made (Gross, 2009).

Economic factors

Various economic factors also contributed to police reforms. According to Murray (2007) inadequate police infrastructure and equipment were contributing to the ineffectiveness of Afghanistan National Police. Besides, a lot of funds were being spent on the police sector with no substantial improvements. The government, therefore, deemed it necessary to implement financial reforms to curb the situation. As a result, most of the subsequent donor funds were re-directed to the police sector. They have been used in the renovation and construction of police infrastructure. Control systems have also been put in place to manage the way funds are utilized.

Nevertheless, the government realized that most of its police officers were either undertrained or untrained. As a result, service delivery was inefficient, and most of the officers were earning undeserved salaries. According to Murray (2007), the situation was causing embezzlement of public funds, and led to the need for training of the officers. Training aimed at inculcating values, skills and knowledge in the police to enhance decision-making. To this effect, various training programs were established to ensure that police officers were well-trained before being deployed.

Reform Initiatives

According to Murray (2007), reform initiatives within the police sector in Afghanistan commenced in 2002. However, Gross (2009) asserts that substantial improvements were made since 2005. This was when the government embarked on a Rank Reform Initiative after realizing that financing and purchase of equipment alone were not successful in reforming the sector. Murray (2007) suggests that the initiative’s main objective was to replace and overhaul the existing leadership composition and structure. The government conducted background checks on potential eligible candidates in an effort to replace leaders with previous corruption records and human rights violations. Gross (2009) suggests that a salary reform was also established to match the new employees’ salaries with that of their counterparts holding similar positions in the Afghan National Army.

It has been realized that the “sergeant’s” role is not well developed. Besides, it is mostly overlooked by the reputation associated with being a commissioned, regular, officer (lieutenant or higher). Moreover, Prenzler and Ransley (2002) point out the lack of emphasis on subordinate positions has stunted the definition of ranks, their roles as well as responsibilities. As a result, the Ministry of Interior has undergone a rank reform process. Gross (2009) points out that this has led to the phasing out of the Senior Captain and Third Lieutenant ranks. Moreover, a disproportionate number of senior ranking police officers have been eliminated due to the Rank Reform Initiative. The table below indicates the known alternative ranks being put in place.

Table 1.0: Showing the alternative ranks being implemented.

Current RankAlternative Title
Senior SergeantFirst Sergeant
Staff SergeantSecond Sergeant
SergeantThird Sergeant
First PatrolmanSoldier
Second PatrolmanSoldier

Source: The Researcher, 2014.

The main objectives of the rank and payment reforms are:

  • to increase payment in order to facilitate retention and recruitment process as well as to reduce corruption.
  • to institute a thorough process for selecting and testing officers on the basis of merit rather than bribery and factional connections and bribery (Murray, 2007).
  • to facilitate the restructuring of an inefficient police force through the reduction of senior officer positions

The most significant element of the rank and pay reform was the establishment of a merit-based process during the police officers’ selection. However, President Karzai disrupted the process by appointing fourteen unqualified police chiefs. Murray (2007) asserts that this led to the establishment of a board to review the appointments. Consequently, eleven of the police chiefs were substituted. Despite the flaw in concurrent appointments, the initiative has led to significant improvements of the police sector. The main challenge, however, remains ensuring that promotions and appointments are done on a merit basis rather than being disregarded by influential politicians. This could be a crucial step towards enhancing the sustainability of the initiative.

According to Murray (2007), the salary reform is implemented in phases. Besides, Gross (2009) suggests that there is a link between the pay and the rank reform. Prenzler and Ransley (2002) point out the higher the rank and level of responsibility, the higher the salary. Together, the pay and rank reforms can produce a better-paid police force. This helps reduce corruption levels and instil confidence from the public.

As of 2012, the rank structure and monthly salary was as shown below.

Table 2.0: showing monthly salary and Rank structure as of 2012:

RankPay rate
Second Lieutenant$180
First Lieutenant$200
Senior Captain$250
Lieutenant Colonel$350
Brigadier General$550
Major General$650
Lieutenant General$750


Is the strategy or system successful?

. The rank and pay system has so far been successful. Despite politicians’ influence being the main challenge, the system has led to significant improvement of the police sector in Afghanistan. For example, Murray (2007) points out that there has been an improvement in the public confidence in the police service. Besides, service delivery has impeccably improved. Moreover, the aim of the reform was to attain a seventy-five per-cent reduction in the number of officers and about a thirty per-cent increase of patrolmen, sergeants and lieutenants. By 2008, the ranks of the general and colonel police officers had been reformed. Only the patrolmen and sergeants had not yet been reformed. The process also overhauled the wage scale thus increasing the ratio of the lowest to highest monthly salaries from around 1:1.5 to 1:10. The reform has been the most succesful in trying to curb corruption and factionalism.

Despite its little success, the system has faced many challenges. This is because it is still common to find a disproportionate degree of senior ranking police officers in the police sector. Despite these officers being “reformed” and their pay being increased, they still wear the “captain” rank or anything they deem appropriate as they seek to retain more authority. The continued existence of treason, corruption and bribery in the national police have also posed challenges to the system. Widespread corruption in the Afghan National Police has made it difficult to combat the Taliban insurgency. For example, in 2008, Taliban fighters of all ranks bought their release with bribes ranging from about one hundred to ten thousand dollars from police custody. In the same year, sexual harrasment and drug use were reported within the Afghan National Police (Murray, 2007).

Moreover, because of the high corruption level, the government commenced sending the uncorrupt ANA to the more sensitive areas. In 2013, a Hazara police commander was falsely accused of the murder of 121 people. Hakim fled to Ghazni Province in fear of his life. Despite the Minister of Interior’s promise to bring him back, he has never been taken back into custody. These examples show the challenges that are making the system not to prosper. The challenges might make the system be unsustainable unless immediate interventions are made (Murray, 2007).


The Afghanistan government should prioritize the quality of its police force over its quantity. The tendency of the government increasing the number of police officers regularly is significant for enhancing security. However, Prenzler and Ransley (2002) point out the priority should be to improve the quality rather than the quantity. This is because the present police are ineffective and corrupt. Increasing their number merely aggravates the problem thus doing more harm than good. Moreover, the police reputation as corrupt erodes the government’s legitimacy and destabilizes the country. As a result, Gross (2009) suggests that comprehensive reforms such as better training, better internal control systems and more careful recruitments should be adopted.

Furthermore, Prenzler and Ransley (2002) point out vetting and testing of police leadership through the reform is significant to professionalising the police service. However, Murray (2007) asserts that it has proven to be difficult as drug alliance and factional networks compete for posts. The mentioned challenges highlight the need to depoliticize the service, ensure professional development and institutionalize control and command. In an attempt to meet its objectives, the reform process should include a strenghthened civilian oversight as well as the appointment of a commissioner.

Finally, it is perceived that Afghanistan may not have sufficient resources in the future. As a result, it should prioritize the fiscal sustainability of its police sector. Failure to prioritize its sustainability may have a negative impact on the development of other institutions. It may also have a crippling effect on the development of democratic institutions. This could result to the collapse of security institutions after the depletion of external resources (Murray, 2007).

In conclusion, there have been notable improvements in the police sector in Afghanistan. However, the overall police reform effort results in the last fifteen years have been quite disappointing. The Afghan National Police are still perceived as being part of the security problem. Issues that initially undermined reforms need to be to be addressed to minimize resource wastage. To this effect, the rank and pay system should not be disregarded by anyone; despite their power or level of influence. It should serve as a foundation as the country tries to move towards a more comprehensive, long-term and co-ordinated police system.


Gross, E. (2009). Security sector reform in Afghanistan: the EU’s contribution. Paris: European Union Institute for Security Studies.

Hayes, G., & Sedra, M. (Eds.). (2008). Afghanistan: Transition Under Threat. Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press.

Murray, T. (2007). Police-building in Afghanistan: A case study of civil security reform. International Peacekeeping, 14(1), 108-126.

O’neill, W. G. (2005). Police Reform in Post-Conflict Societies: What we know and what we still need to know. New York, NY: International Peace Academy.

Prenzler, T., & Ransley, J. (Eds.). (2002). Police reform: Building integrity. California, CA: Hawkins Press.

Wilder, A. R. (2007). Cops or Robbers?: The Struggle to Reform the Afghan National Police. Kabul: Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit.



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