My experience yesterday, being beaten by police, is actually nothing new in life in Afghanistan, and especially for journalists. Rights of journalists, as any other civilians, are not yet observed by the police, the guardian of the people, in Afghanistan.
Najeebullah, a Pajhwok journalist, was kicked on his chest by a police when he made the coverage about the bomb happening last Saturday. Violence like this is not news anymore. “Why dont you write about the police atittude,” I asked him. They have written so many times, but the police never care, nor change their behaviour.
“They are uneducated. They have low salary,” said Wais, telling me the reason for the bad behavior of Afghan police and soldiers.
Inspired by this, I would like to learn more about the life of Afghan police. I traveled to Darulaman Palace, at the western part of Kabul. This is a palace built by Amanullah King and now resembled a building after earthquake. The building, and the whole area, suffered a lot from the wars since Mujaheddin time. I met two young police guys there, Manzur, a 20 year old Tajik and Noor Ahmad, an 18 year old Pashtun. It was indeed contrary to the scene a day before, now I was befriended by the police guys.
I introduced myself as a 35 year old man, and this time I was wearing a Western T-shirt. In Afghanistan, people do really regard appearance and age. Clothes make everything different, and they do respect people much older with them. When I told them I was 35 years old, they suddenly changed their attitude, from laughing and asking for photos all the time, to be more serious in discussion.
“How much is your salary?”
“3500 Afghani,” said Manzoor.
“Is that enough?”
“Enough? I just bought cigarette and naswar, and no more money for bread,” said Noor Ahmad.
I really questioned how he could put cigarette and naswar in higher priority than bread.
About education, Manzoor studied for 8 years and Noor Ahmad for 5 years. It is equivalent to 2 SMP and 5 SD student level in Indonesia. But don’t compare the quality. They came from villages outside Kabul. When Manzoor asked the time, I showed him my watch. He even couldn’t read the time from the watch, which is a basic knowledge for 2 SD students in Indonesia.
A contrast from yesterday’s violence, Manzoor and Noor Ahmad were very friendly to me. They invited me to stay together in their barrack, not far from the museum. I refused politely.
The police in Kabul bazaar are a different scene. Their duty is to make the bazaar tidy from naughty sellers. It is forbidden to sell on the road, for example. And they have wooden or paper stick to beat the people who do business in wrong place. It’s somewhat comparable to scenes in bazaars in Indonesia. They were very sensitive about photography, and very worried that journalists captured their actions beating the civilians. I took a picture of a police beating a seller with stick, and suddenly I found myself in the police office surrounded by 10 policemen asking me to delete the photos.
The people in Kabul are somehow used to the police attitude. Another scene I saw was in front of the Iranian embassy, where the police beat the visa applicants with a metal bar. Yes, metal bar. Of course it hurts, but people didn’t complain either.
Maybe I shouldn’t have complained either being slapped by an Afghan police.