April 08, 2010

Shocked... shocked

It's possible some people might be confused about the stories saying the Afghan NDS were reported to be cruel jailors, but also tended to take bribes to release insurgents a lot. In our kind of Western justice system that would seem... contradictory.

But not in Afghanistan. One cannot rule out the likelihood here that this is just evidence the system is, in fact, functioning as designed: that is, functioning primarily as a mechanism for generating bribes for local officials through catch-and-release detention policies. The threat of ill treatment itself is itself a primary tool to efficiently extract the levy from the friends and family of the detained. If NDS custody were not seen as hard time, and the NDS themselves as hard men, there would not be the same sense or urgency to spring someone. The prompt releases and the reputation for abuse, deserved or not, go hand in glove in this way.

This idea we have, of Afghans permanently and humanely detaining other Afghans, whether as convicted criminals or prisoners or war, in a bid to end this insurgency was of extremely limited application in Kandahar a year ago. It was, simply, a fiction. To pick a hopefully familiar point of reference, the reality could even have been said to have borne some resemblances with the justice of Capt. Renault in the movie Casablanca, with its bribes and "usual suspects": and really, should we be so surprised that that would be the case? If a land where such practices were common was not so foreign as to be incredible to 1940s Western movie audiences, it should not be so surprising to us in dealing with a real-life country that in many ways missed out on the 20th century altogether.

The utility of "Afghan justice" as it applies to the current insurgency, assuming Western non-interference, is well-captured by the anecdote at the end of this week's Der Spiegel article on the ANP:

Take, for example, the case of Taliban commander Haji Malik, who regularly visited Police General Ghulam Patang in Mazar-e-Sharif. Malik was on the military list of most-wanted insurgents, and he was believed to be behind many bombing attacks. But Patang refused to arrest the man, despite intervention by the German military. He was highly regarded in the region, the police chief explained, and besides, there was no official arrest warrant.

When the pressure became too great, a typically Afghan solution was agreed to. Malik went to prison voluntarily, as part of a deal under which the military officials had three days to come up with evidence against him. But no evidence was found.

On the fourth day, Malik left the prison as a free man. The Taliban militant warmly embraced his former captors and vowed not to set off any more bombs.

I have seen similar cases. One thing to note: almost certainly no ISAF-derived intelligence was offered to help make a case against this individual. Not possible. Even if all declassification and translation barriers could have been bridged, it could never be done in the standard Afghan 72-hour window. (In any case, one suspects those sorts of inputs likely would have done little more than drive up the bribe price.)

But in any case, it's all rather moot. The Der Spiegel article also makes the implicit argument that I have made in this space before: when you are unable to keep the police reliably alive until the next morning, keeping them honest as well is really not one of your first-tier problems.

Posted by BruceR at 10:26 PM