In the past, when Faizullah, a 38-year-old police officer from the Afghan capital Kabul, had to locate a suspicious vehicle, he had almost no chance of success, as he was not able to read or write. He was only able to identify a car’s colour and make. Faizullah recalls a time when he was supposed to arrest the driver of a yellow car for using a false registration plate.
When the car pulled up, Faizullah asked to see the driver’s licence. “Instead the driver showed me an electricity bill, as I found out later.” He pretended to check the papers, then nodded and let the wanted man go.“That was the best I could do at the time.”
The goal is to strengthen state institutions
But all that is now in the past since he attended one of the police literacy courses provided by Germany in Afghanistan with the aim of stabilising the security situation in the country. To date, the Federal Foreign Office’s Directorate-General for Crisis Prevention, Stabilisation, Post-Conflict Peacebuilding and Humanitarian Assistance has provided some 27 million euros in funding to the programme. It is one of 63 projects in the Stability Pact for Afghanistan, through which Germany is supporting the Afghan Government. In this stabilisation work, the focus is on providing short and medium-term support. The aim is to make rapid and tangible progress and to achieve the goal of strengthening its political partner, namely the Afghan Government and its state institutions.
“Afghanistan’s development is irreversible,” says Thomas Zahneisen, former German Chargé d’affaires in Kabul and long-serving Head of the Stabilisation Division in Berlin. “Afghanistan is now a completely different country than it was after liberation from the Taliban.” Security and the refugee situation are currently the main causes of destabilisation. Half a million Afghans are internally displaced persons (IDPs), while around 600,000 Afghans had to leave Pakistan in 2016 alone and return to their home country. In response, the Federal Foreign Office has provided some 11 million euros to help refugees in the past three years. This funding has been used in projects for IDPs and returnees. Around half of the aid provided to Afghanistan by the Directorate-General for Crisis Prevention, Stabilisation, Post-Conflict Peacebuilding and Humanitarian Assistance – some 91 million euros – has been allocated to the security and police sectors, as a lack of security is one of the main reasons why people flee.
Zahneisen underlines that the Afghans are proud of their police officers. However, they would like to see significant improvements, as police officers reflect society as a whole, where the vast majority of people – some 70 percent – cannot read or write or are only semi-literate. “In my own case, I didn’t learn to read or write as a child because of the war,” Faizullah says. “And later on, I didn’t have the time because I had to sell water in the city to feed my family.” Ten people depend on his earnings.
Faizullah now has a diploma equivalent to three years of primary school education and can do all the things he could not even imagine in the past, such as inspecting vehicle documents and registration plates, setting up road blocks for checkpoints at particular places and finding addresses without help. Unlike many of his colleagues, he no longer has to ask a child to read out the name on an arrest warrant for him. He can now read the duty roster on his own, issue penalty notices and write records of police interviews.
“If police officers are not well educated, people feel less secure,” says Georg Fritzenwenger, manager of the police literacy training project at the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH in Kabul, which runs the programme on behalf of the Federal Foreign Office. Several hundred female police officers have also attended the literacy classes. “Afghans have deep roots in their region,” Fritzenwenger says. “They rarely leave their home for economic reasons to go to Kabul, let alone another country. They only leave if they fear for their safety,” for example when laws are no longer upheld or rebels are making advances.
Although the army is primarily responsible in Afghanistan for the fight against extremists such as the Taliban, the police stand for the presence of the state outside the urban centres. “In regions where the security situation is tense, police officers rapidly become involved in other security tasks,” Fritzenwenger says. If they were attacked, they often would have no other choice but to defend themselves, as he explains.
Working as a police officer is becoming more appealing
This makes it all the more important for the security situation that lower-ranking police officers in particular stay on and do not move to other less dangerous or better paid jobs at the earliest opportunity. “The police literacy courses make the job more attractive, as they help people and improve their promotion prospects,” Fritzenwenger says. Every day, the course participants spend two hours of their shift learning to read and write. During the rest of their shift, they do their normal jobs. The GIZ team takes action as soon as five police officers want to attend a course, sending teaching material, tables, benches and a blackboard and training a suitable teacher. In addition to standard adult literacy material, the project has developed special elements for police officers.
“This material addresses topics that are not covered in depth during regular police training,” Fritzenwenger says. “Topics range from defining a police officer’s actual role to human rights, equal opportunities, the environment and health.” So far, 80,000 police officers have attended the GIZ’s literacy classes and a further 32,000 officers are currently taking lessons. The benefits can be felt immediately. “Because I can read now, I noticed a false registration plate during a recent vehicle inspection,” says Abdul Latif, a 28-year-old police officer from the small town of Baghlan in northern Afghanistan. “I always dreamed of joining the police.” But he explains it is only now he is able to do his job properly. “Only police officers who can read and write are able to apply the law,” he says. “And only in this way can we pave the path to peace in Afghanistan.”