Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Political Landscape

Stories people tell (1): An attempted land grab, a fabricated case and an expensive release

Martine van Bijlert 5 min

There is much talk about corruption. How it undermines the government and erodes trust. How it weakens all efforts towards reform. How it makes people’s lives more complicated and miserable than they already are. But it is only when you are confronted with the wearying detail of what people have to go through, just to try to untangle themselves from what they have gotten caught up in without wanting to, it is only then that you start to understand the depth of frustration and loss of patience and the deep weariness among large parts of the population.

One of the stories I was recently told, illustrates both the complexity and the absurdity of the big and small corruption – with its total disregard of the substance of a case (whether the case is pursued or dropped) and with all sides ending up paying for each step of the way, even after the case has been solved:


“A friend of mine had a land dispute with another family from his village. Two brothers from this family claimed that he had started building on their land, even though he had all the ownership documents for the land. The men contacted three prosecutors in the Attorney-General’s office who were their friends and they arranged a warrant. The AG’s office sent a large armed delegation to his house, without informing the elders. They beat and arrested my friend’s brother. During the interrogation they falsely accused him of attacking and trying to harm the prosecutors.

After this happened I immediately went with my friend to the Attorney-General’s office. It is now several days that we have been trying to get his brother released. It is unbelievable how corrupt this department is. Now I have seen it with my own eyes.

First my friend found two prosecutors from his home area who agreed to talk to the three prosecutors that were handling the investigation. The three prosecutors first claimed that the brother had insulted them, then they agreed to release him, then they changed their mind again. The next day my friend found another prosecutor from his area, who advised him to write a petition and to try to get it delivered to the Attorney-General, who is notoriously difficult to access, or to someone in his vicinity. We found someone who agreed to arrange an appointment with the head of a relevant department, in exchange for 1,000 AFG ($20). He took us to the head of the department, who took note of the ownership documents and then gave the order to be sent the report of the investigation.

We went back to the man who had advised us in the first place and gave him the document with the order. He hand-delivered it to the investigation department, just to make sure it arrived and was implemented. Here they made all kinds of excuses. In the end the man told us we just needed to pay. So we settled on 6,000 AFG ($120). We paid, the prosecutors drew up the report, and we delivered the investigation back to the head of the department. But when the case was brought before the board, instead of ordering the brother’s release, they gave instructions to immediately send his case to court. We had paid the 6,000 AFG for nothing.

The next day my friend found another prosecutor from his area. This man told him that if my friend paid $2,500 he would tell the other prosecutors to hold on to the file and not send it to the court, and that he would arrange an exceptional release order, signed by the Attorney-General. By that time my friend saw no other alternative. So he prepared a second petition, gave the man the $2,500, and paid another 1,000 AFG ($20) to have his petition delivered. The whole process was restarted, another instruction was dispatched to be sent the report of the investigation and three days later the Attorney-General issued a release order.

My friend brought the release order to the prosecutors, who – he has no doubt – had divided the money between them, only to find that the order was worthless and that the file had been forwarded to the court anyway. We asked around and found out that the head of the court, where the file was now, was known as a ‘daraj-e yek rishwatkhor’ (first-class bribe taker). My friend paid $2,500 for nothing and his brother was still in prison, while being innocent. And now he would have to pay even more. He was so angry. He cursed the government. He was so angry he said: “khodawand entehariha dar Kabul ra kam nakona” (“may God not lessen the number of suicide attackers in Kabul”). He was so upset, he couldn’t help it.

I think NATO knows about these things. How can they not, as they are supporting them. This is preparing the ground for entahariha wa kuh bala raftan (suicide attacks and going up into the mountains). We need a full overhaul of this government.”

A few days later the case continued:

“Do you remember I told you about the case of this brother was detained because of a land dispute? The conflict has been solved. The case is closed. The elders in our area intervened, they were worried that the conflict would get out of hand and that people would get killed over this. They met and convinced the two brothers, who had falsely accused my friend of land grabbing, to arrange for the release of his brother. The two men paid the prosecutors to close the file. Yesterday the case went to court, they probably also paid the judge. The judge acquitted my friend’s brother of the main charges and gave him a fine of 12,000 AFG ($240).

The two brothers who started the whole problem went to my friend’s house for a reconciliation ceremony. They will pay back the fine and the bribe and they will give them a jerib of land as compensation. My friend’s brother should be released soon. I will let you know when it happens.”

A few days later it turned out that the case had dragged on for a little while longer:

“My friend’s brother was finally released, but only after a lot of trouble. The two instigators paid the judge $1,500 and he acquitted my friend’s brother. When my friend took the documents to the prosecutor, the case was delayed for several days. The three prosecutors who had fabricated the case argued with the two brothers who had asked them to do this. They told them that they would have to pay again if they wanted to close the case. They wanted $5,000, claiming that five people were involved, but in the end they settled for $3,000. I was there when the final signature was given. A prosecutor whom we knew introduced us to the man in charge. He intervened on our behalf and explained that we were waiting for his signature, so he agreed to sign the paper. Then we went to the prison department.

The guard at the prison department told us that it was too late in the day and that we should come back the next day, but when we gave 500 AFG ($10) we got the release letter we needed. We brought the letter to the prison, by now it was evening. There they found another excuse. They said that because the letter made no mention of the fine, they could not release him and we needed to come back with a prosecutor to settle the matter. We tried to raise the duty prosecutor, but he said that it was not his business and refused to come back with us. In the end we gave 1000 AFG ($20) to the man at the prison. He wrote the letter and my friend’s brother was finally free.

This is our justice system. Everybody always complains about the police, but the police just takes a few hundred afghani and they sometimes do some work. A few weeks ago we had to go to the traffic police, because we were involved in an accident, and they treated us very well. They were very reasonable and did not bother us at all. But here they take bribes in dollars. They take big bribes, for everything. And they don’t do their job.”


Corruption Government


Martine van Bijlert

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