A Lawyer in Afghanistan
by a former Denver attorney
The engines of the Kam Air Boeing 737 spun down on the apron of Kabul International Airport — a name that belied the anarchy inside the aged and nondescript building across the tarmac. An army uniform with an AK-47 pulled me out of the glacially-moving passport line to a side window. Thinking he was opening another line, I handed the window my passport and got stamped. As I walked toward the chaos in baggage claim, the uniform held out his hand asking for money — my first test as a Rule of Law expert and I hadn’t even left the airport. Nervously explaining that I could not give him money in this situation, I hoped the rifle stayed slung on his shoulder. Unimpressed with my explanation of how I was in Afghanistan to work with police and prosecutors to create and enhance Rule of Law, and how providing baksheesh on my first day was bad form, he trailed me to the baggage area, but soon left for greener pastures.
After paying two young entrepreneurs five dollars to retrieve my bags from the Gordian knot of a luggage pile, I found myself pushed outside into the parking lot where I was supposed to be met by my employer’s mobile security team ("don’t take a taxi or you will be fired; our armored vehicle will pick you up"). Feeling exposed and scrutinizing passing burqas for infiltrating-Taliban shoes and large hands, I borrowed a cell phone and after an hour or so an armored vehicle roughly the size of Rhode Island pulled up carrying large men wearing armored vests and sprouting various weapons. Settling in the back seat, I heard the expat team leader radio that he had "the package." … I decided not to tell him that I had been asked to leave the military long ago. I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.
My first week at the compound passed with training and orientations. For light reading, I boned up on the Constitution, the Criminal Procedure Code, the Interim Criminal Procedure Code, the Police Law, the Penal Code, the Discovery Law, Law on the Saranwali (prosecutors), Law on the Organization and Jurisdiction of the Court of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, and the Law on Campaign Against Bribery and Corruption (I knew I was right at the airport!).
We weren’t to leave the compound without a mobile security team, but we could go to any restaurant we wanted, as long as it was one of the seven endorsed by the United Nations (apparently for their security measures and not necessarily for the quality of their food). I had to refuse my first armored vest as it was sized for six-pack abs and mine had developed into a 12-pack a while back. Six-day workweeks (Fridays off) are tiring, but what are you going to do with the extra day? Leisure activities are non-existent. It was about this time I started getting return e-mails from friends and associates demanding to know why I was doing this.
Once properly equipped, my first assignment was to chair a breakout session for prosecutors and police at a provincial justice conference in Bamiyan (think blown-up Buddhas). Most travel outside Kabul has to be done by air for security reasons and because of difficult roads.
Since then, I have been assigned as an advisor to the attorney general’s office to support its resurrection of a nine-month new-prosecutor training program. I also am working with the United Nations to develop managed information systems for their case files. On a broader spectrum, I am working with the Ministry of Interior (police) and the prosecutors by supporting the creation of a joint commission to foster police-prosecutor coordination.
Finishing this article was made more difficult upon my return from a second training trip to Bamiyan yesterday. We have two teams here; mine works with the justice sector and the other trains corrections officers. Yesterday, a member of the corrections team was killed by a vehicle-borne IED that rammed and detonated alongside the armored vehicle transporting her to a training session. She was a young mother of a teenager and always stopped to talk when I attended meetings at her compound. A Nepalese security person was killed as well. Other team members were seriously injured, along with the expat security team leader.
When this article is published, I will have left after nine months in Afghanistan. There is much to do here — 30 years of war has decimated the justice sector but the cost already is high.