Pul-e Khomri, March 2013.  Ring, ring, ring...  The phone is ringing at the EUPOL Field Office in Pul-e-Khomri (Pul-e-K), no one answers. On the tenth of March this year it will be so and EUPOL officer Zsolt Szalay, Head of this Field Office and his team, will have left. As their Afghan counterparts express their gratitude and concern about the departure, the EUPOL trainers will be sadly missed. The beginning of March will be the final curtain for this small but effective team in Pul-e Khomri. Then, ‘Call 100,’ the phone number for community outreach will be one of the legacies of EUPOL’s presence.  EUPOL members trained the staff for this police hotline - available 24/7 for the citizens of Pol-e-K.

It is just one of the many legacies that the Field Office team will leave behind.   Pul-e-Khomri, the Capital City of Baghlan Province in North of Afghanistan, has a population of approximately 60,000 with 2000 Afghan National Police officers who serve them. The EUPOL Field Office opened up in May 2008, taking over from Hungarian military police trainers who were themselves preceded by a Dutch Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) that was in charge of police training and security in the area.   

The Head of the Field office, Zsolt Szalay, although he is happy to go home to see his wife and young son, is sad to leave. “Of course, it is not an easy time, I am sorry to have to go and end working with the Afghans.”

He smiles as he speaks of his team, “the old guys” as he himself is the youngest member of the team. “I am so proud. We are five very committed guys, plus a language assistant, and I will miss them.”

He reflects on the changes he has seen over the past two years. “Five years ago the opening of EUPOLs Field Office was the next important step to further build on the work that was done previously by the Hungarian PRT.” 

It meant more emphasis on mentoring strategic partners and the development of community policing. 

Zsolt regrets the departure of EUPOL: “It is a pity that we cannot have a continued presence in Pul-e-K anymore. It is sad, because I am proud of the good co-operation and trust we have built with the Afghans. I will really miss my discussions with the Police Chief on policing.” Zsolt’s international colleagues thought he was becoming an Afghan in a Hungarian Police uniform due to his tireless commitment and engagement with the Afghan police.  The Acting Head of the Field Component at EUPOL Headquarters, Greg Laturnus, compliments the team, saying, “From EUPOL’s side we are very proud of this team – the Hungarian Five. They have done a fantastic job delivering on our mandate as EUPOL ambassadors at their best.”  Being from Canada and meeting Hungarian Police officers for the first time he was impressed with their professionalism and level of expertise in community policing. Greg added, “Zsolt and his team were very dedicated and self-motivated police officers. Their contribution to the Mission and to the development of the Afghan National Police has been significant.”

Although EUPOL and its partners will continue their work at Pul-e-K until the very last day in mid-March, the official handover ceremony took place at the end of February. Present were the leadership of the Afghan National Police, the Provincial Education Department, EUPOL, the members of the Police-e-Mardume (Community Policing) team and Afghan media.  “This is a very important event for our police,” the Chief of Police HQ, General Sherzad, said underlining the significance of the handover. “The aim of the police is to enforce the law and not to fight with AK assault rifles,” emphasizing the community policing approach the EUPOL Field Office implemented.  He thanked the EUPOL Mission for its support, and in particular, the EUPOL officers for their mentoring. General Sherzad is now a true champion of the new “community policing” concept. “Police-e-Mardume, means we have to serve the community by building a bridge between police and people, which will help the work of police and improve the lives of Afghans.” EUPOL founded the Police-e-Mardume project last summer with the help of the international organizations IOM and UNAMA. After a successful pilot, the program was initiated for seven provinces and the Minister of Interior (MoI), General Patang, intends the program to be extended throughout Afghanistan. It has become one of the most important programs of the MoI.

The Provincial Chief of Police in Baghlan, General Asadullah Sherzad, also expressed his appreciation for EUPOL’s training, material support, mentoring and projects.  One project in particular was very important according to Sherzad. It was the new office project for the female Afghan police officers. “It is a further significant step towards community policing.” General Sherzad stressed the importance of all the changes.

The EUPOL team in Pul-e-K delivered the full package of EUPOL training courses and identified suitable partners on the Afghan side.  Zsolt Szalay grins widely as he mentions that in Pul-e-K, each and every time, all spots on their training courses were filled. He knows this was not always the case in Kabul and other field office locations.  The Hungarian Five managed to make the most of the places available and at the same time managed to organize and assist the Police stations with IT equipment and basic IT-courses.

All of EUPOL’s accomplishments in Pul-e-K wouldn’t have been possible without the exceptional motivation and participation of Pul-e-K Afghan counterparts. The ANP officers in Pul-e-K willingly accept the risks of being associated with internationals in order to learn new ways of policing. 

As is the case with Sergeant Mohammad Yaqoob, a Police-e-Mardume officer and a EUPOL-trained Afghan instructor of the ‘Code of Conduct’ and ‘Community Policy’ training courses.  Zsolt is very taken with Sergeant Mohammad Yaqoob who has, at times, delivered training courses without pay. 

“Afghanistan needs men like this police officer; professional, eager to learn and honest. Due to men like him, the ANP in Pul-e-k enabled itself and EUPOL to write another successful episode” the Head of the Field office Pul-e-K emphasizes.

Sergeant Mohammad Yaqoob undertook Police-e-Mardume tasks in addition to his very busy job in operations. This Afghan police trainer didn’t need many words to explain his commitment: “My aim in this life is to work hard ‘from the heart’ for a better future for Afghanistan and its people.” Another partner without whom success would not have been possible is 1st Lt. Mohammad Musa, Deputy Head of Education, and in charge of the planning and delivery of training courses. 1st Lt. Mohammad Musa was mentored by EUPOL and feels he is now better skilled to do his duties. He compliments the EUPOL-team, “I highly appreciate the excellent co-operation I have had with our European friends”. 

Acting Head of EUPOL’s Field Office Component, Greg Laturnus, saw it all happen from a distance. “It is truly remarkable what the Pul-e-K team accomplished with only five people”.  He is equally impressed by the commitment of Afghan police officers who perform their daily duties in a very challenging environment, risking their lives all the time: “The courage and commitment of these heroes and their desire to move forward will no doubt lead to a brighter future for Afghanistan and its people.” 

Pul-e-Khumri is one of four field offices that will close in 2013. The field offices in Chaghcharan, Kunduz and Lashkar Gah will follow. EUPOL intends to continue providing its services in the regions and is exploring every possible option to maintain the momentum made by EUPOL in areas where field offices are to close. Greg Laturnus commented, “Part of the future plan is to continue to build capacity and identify Afghan National Police officers to be trained as trainers within an Afghan driven ‘train the trainer’ program. Another option being explored is the possibility of EUPOL Mobile Training Teams delivering courses within secure areas.”

Throughout Afghanistan the departure of international organizations and troops give rise to feelings of abandonment and concerns. The Provincial Chief of Police in Baghlan, General Asadullah Sherzad, reflecting on the future says, “The Afghan National Police in Baghlan needs continuous support and training, even if it is at distance. We also need material support.” Being partners in developing policing for so long, it is not surprising that Zsolt shares more or less the same view, “I believe we should do everything possible not to be seen as abandoning the ANP in Pul-e-K. There has been a lot of progress made, but still they need to be supported from outside.”  

Fear for Safety
Language Assistant Nael Rasteen, played a special part in the Field Office Pul-e-K. Without him close contact with the Afghan Police would not have been possible. In over twelve years he built up extensive international experience working with various organisations and in doing this, worked towards a secure and prosperous future for Afghanistan, his family and his son. His future has changed dramatically now the Field Office closes, without the protection of the internationals he fears for his personal safety and that of his family. Now he hopes for a job in Kabul.