March 25, 2010:
NATO and U.S. police trainers have bit the bullet in Afghanistan, and drastically upgraded recruitment standards. From now on, you can't be a cop, unless you are literate. This means the foreigners running the police training operation must establish a major literacy program. That's because only about 25 percent of Afghans are literate. But it's become clear that illiterate and untrained police are worse than no police at all. That's because cops who can't read and don't know much about proper police procedure tend to be corrupt and a menace to the people they are supposed to be protecting.
Currently, two-thirds of police recruits fail to complete their training, and illiterate recruits have the worst time of it. Despite that, the national police force has been expanded to 76,000. The illiteracy problem has always been recognized as a problem. Currently, only 35 percent of all policemen are literate. While this can be ignored for many of the lower ranking personnel, police supervisors need to read. Moreover, illiterate recruits take longer to train, and more effort to work with.
The U.S. has provided an intensive literacy course for soldiers, which gets most of them to basic ("functional") literacy within a year. A similar program was implemented for the police. They needed it, and it was noted that it made a big difference. In addition to learning how to read signs and maps, the newly semi-literate police were taught to sign their names, and write out the serial number of their weapon.
Illiterate police selected for promotion to sergeant, were given more literacy training. That's because being able to read and write has long been a critical asset for any paramilitary force. The Roman Empire, at its height 1800 years ago, had an army over 100,000 troops, a third of which were literate. But with modern forces, an abundance of technology makes literacy even more necessary. The Afghans can get by without it, but can do a lot better with it.
The police had another problem. In the last eight years, many police recruits received no training at all. That had a lot to do with the high dropout rate. That has changed, but it will be several years before all police are trained to an acceptable level. In fact, there are some even more serious problems with the cops, mainly because of a lack of good leadership. Afghanistan has never had a real national police force, and building one isn't easy. The culture of corruption, and tribalism, plus widespread illiteracy, are proving to be formidable obstacles. Those police units that are well led (and there are some of them) and have worked out good relationships with local tribal leaders (difficult, because of the many feuds, and short tempers), do a good job. Having to battle the Taliban and drug gangs puts additional strain on an already weak force. so improving the quality of new cops is a matter of survival for the force.