Kabul, Afghanistan – International donors have spent billions of dollars on non-military projects in Afghanistan since the war began in 2001 but despite this mammoth reconstruction effort, state institutions in the country remain fragile and unstable.
As Afghanistan’s donors gather again in London on Thursday to pledge funds for the still-struggling country, back in Kabul the courts and police – two key pillars of democracy – are prime examples of the disconnect between billions spent and achievement on the ground.
Weary, sad and torn, hundreds of people roam aimlessly in Kabul’s primary court compound differing in their clothes, language and mannerisms, but all wearing the same expression.
In the past 10 years, my case has been pushed from one hearing to another. It's a lot of signatures, a lot of papers but no results.
Some have just arrived but others such as Mahbobullah have been coming here for the past 10 years.
“I was robbed of my house 10 years ago. I lodged a complaint with police, who sent my file to the judge. In the past 10 years, my case has been pushed from one hearing to another. It’s a lot of signatures, a lot of papers, but no results,” says Mahbobullah, 33, who gave only his first name, pointing towards his bulky case file.
Justice delayed and denied
District primary courts are the first port of call for accusers and the accused in Afghanistan’s judicial system. They deal with criminal cases, land and financial disputes, and family matters.
The judiciary is overburdened, understaffed and crippled by corruption.
Afghanistan’s new President Ashraf Ghani shocked many when he raised the issue of corruption in the judiciary in his inauguration speech on September 28.
“Unfortunately, there are accusations of corruption in the judiciary system, and the existence of corruption will open the path for insecurity in the country,” Ghani said in his inaugural speech in September.
According to Transparency International’s 2014 survey on the world’s most corrupt countries, Afghanistan ranked 172 out of 174 nations investigated with the judiciary and police ranking high as the most corrupt institutions.
“Afghanistan’s poor will remain poor if the aid the country gets for development is siphoned off before it can do any good,” Transparency International said.
While some question the effectiveness of the donor system, others say it has made a difference for ordinary Afghans.
“The money invested in Afghanistan so far hasn’t had the positive effect originally envisioned by the donors, but it’s not meaningless,” says Graeme Smith, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group.
“Some aspects of life in Afghanistan have improved, especially for urban residents who aren’t as affected by the rising violence. The danger is that the international community will abruptly turn away from Afghanistan, and that such neglect could aggravate the negative trends we’re already seeing.”
|Arif Rahimi, 21, awaits his case in Kabul court [Bilal Sarwary/al Jazeera]|
Lined up in a queue not far from Mahbobullah is 21-year-old Arif Rahimi. A high school graduate, Rahimi was detained last year on charges of stealing a stone crusher from a construction site.
“For a year, I have been running around this court complex trying to prove my innocence,” says Rahimi.
“Every Monday I come to the court, only to be told to come again. It is a simple case of theft, which, if investigated properly, could lead to the guilty person in less than an hour. But here I am running from one corner of this complex to the other while the actual thieves are walking free.”
Rahimi says several lawyers and touts have approached him in the past one year, offering to “fix” the judge presiding over his case only for a small fee. “I don’t know if the judge has asked for a bribe. I know several people who were in a situation like mine did pay and they are now roaming free.”
‘Bad mouthing’ the judiciary
But Mawlawi Sediqullah Haqiq, president of the Kabul Appeals Court, rejects the allegations of corruption, terming all such talk as “bad mouthing”.
“As judges we are bound to listen to all parties, but then only one side is just,” says Haqiq. “Thousands of people bring their cases here. If a judge issues a verdict in accordance with the evidence presented, the other side goes and bad mouths the judge.”
He added the judiciary’s workload doesn’t match up with its staffing levels. “We had 4,000 unresolved cases in 2013 in Kabul. It is a city of more than six million people. Cases from provinces are also transferred to Kabul. We have a lot of work to do.”
The absence of basic government services has resulted in a crisis of governance in rural Afghanistan, forcing thousands of Afghans to seek refuge in the Taliban’s shadowy justice system – which they see as harsh but effective.
The stench from a nearby garbage dump hits one’s face upon attempting to enter this police station in the heart of Kabul. Inside, creaky Soviet-era wooden furniture, heaps of paper files, grumpy-looking men in uniform and numerous complainants jostle for space.
“I have seen police stations during the communist regime of the Najib era and under the Taliban rule. They looked just the same. The only difference is the added layers of security that now surrounds them, restricting common people from freely approaching the police,” says 55-year-old Mohammad Jamal.
Jamal has been coming here for the past two weeks. His son was murdered and he wants to know if the police have made any headway.
|Kabul businessman Qoadas Khan is still awaiting justice after thieves hit his shop [Bilal Sarwary/Al Jazeera ]|
“I don’t know how much longer it will take the police to give me a clear answer. Every time I ask questions about my son’s killing, they just mumble in a language I do not understand and then make me sign papers without explaining what they are,” says Jamal.
Lost time and energy
Qoadas Khan has had a similar experience. He has been trying to report a theft in his shop for the last five days.
“How long does it take to file a complaint? I have lost my money and valuables and now I am losing my time and energy,” he says. “While I am suffering, the thief is probably having a good time.”
Brigadier General Farid Afzali, who heads the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) for Kabul city, admits there are problems.
“Dozens of murders, thefts, armed robberies and kidnappings are reported in this city,” he says. “But I only have 1,400 personnel to investigate them. Before we can move on with a case, more cases are added. My men are already doing 16-hour shifts a day.”
“These men have the mammoth task of guarding a city that for the most part has no street or home numbers and where just a small percentage of its six million people have ID cards,” he says.
According to Farid there are 14,000 policemen in Kabul, including 1,400 CID agents.
“We need to have computerised records, so that we can look up data of residential areas in case of an emergency. At present, there are just tonnes of paper, which we have to sift through whenever a distress call is made.”
Political analyst Haroon Mir says the semi-military status of the police force in Afghanistan makes its already difficult job even more burdensome.
“They are often called upon to fight militants. This disrupts policing, for which they have actually been hired and trained. Long work hours, poor salaries and little recognition drive them to corruption,” Mir says.