Fears of Violence in Afghan Takeover

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Lack of Justice

Earlier this year Afghan forces captured the son of Mullah Nasrat, a well known Taliban commander from the newly created Badpash district, formerly inside of Mehterlam. But inexplicably, he was released, according to a U.S. military official.

The official said he did not know whether the Taliban paid for his release or threatened judges and prosecutors to the point where they let him go. But it was the most obvious sign that, in an Afghan official's words, "the system puts insurgents back on the street."

Afghan and American officials who track the justice system in Mehterlam believe it is corrupt to its core. Judges and prosecutors are too scared or too easily bought -- or both -- to throw the full weight of the law at insurgents or corrupt senior officials.

The courthouse has a few police guards, but as soon as judges leave, they have no protection. Nor do prosecutors.

"I've had judges say to me, how can you expect me to send an insurgent to prison for 20 years if I have no security?" says Tom McDermott, a State Department employee who is the rule of law advisor in Mehterlam. "It's just very easy for insurgents to threaten them. Many of the judges get threats by telephone. In a similar fashion, people who are in power politically can threaten a judge's career … if they don't make an acceptable ruling." Prosecutors and judges defend their record, saying they do the best they can. They point out they prosecuted a school principal who was stealing materials and selling them on the black market. They also say they caught one of the clerks inside the court trying to extract money from a defendant, and set up a sting to catch him.

But Afghan officials who watch the justice system closely say they fear those cases are the exceptions. One judge was arrested a month ago because of his relationship with insurgents, they said, and two judges were recently transfered because of suspicions they too had a relationship with the Taliban.

For the police, the lack of a trustworthy justice system is incredibly frustrating.

"We are… fed up with the whole justice system," one police official complained, using an unprintable epithet. "We're putting our lives in danger, but the court is releasing criminals without caring about the risks we take."

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'This Is The Kind of Life We're Living'

Senior Afghan officials say that within two months, Mehterlam should have more police and its police should have more equipment. And they point out that the Afghan Army is always on standby to help inside the city, if needed. A combined police/army/intelligence service Quick Reaction Force has been recently trained, and is on hair-trigger alert, 24 hours per day.

But the officials acknowledge that justice in the city is fragile. They ask for patience.

"In the rule of law sector, we have a very long way to go," Dr. Ashraf Ghani, a Karzai advisor who designed the transition process, acknowledged today. "But if I may remind you, the police in New York City at the turn of the 20th century was one of the most corrupt. … Police corruption I think is a universal problem. It takes a long time and we have to be realistic to be able to deal with this."

Rekazai fears he may not have that much time. He will continue teaching girls computer skills, in part because he can't afford to lose the contract, in part because he "hopes God's will is different than the Taliban's will." But he admits his mind is always anxious, and that he is "counting his days."

"This is the kind of life we're living," he says. "Full of fear."

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