Kabul Police Check: A Question of Interrogation and Integrity

Two days ago, a policeman stopped us crossing the street. Farhad and I had just knocked off from work and wanted to go for tea at Kabul City Centre, a mall across the major road intersection at a roundabout. There are no traffic lights in Afghanistan; cars meander side to side while pedestrians nonchalantly step onto the road, knowing that cars would avoid hitting them, with a degree of caution. So when we were stopped at the intersection, I thought it was about jaywalking. Or at the least, he was telling us it was too dangerous to cross there.

I was wrong.

He wanted to see my passport. Obviously I was a foreigner, and he knew that. Farhad asked if I had my documents with me and I replied, “No.” It wasn’t that cold a day in Kabul, and I had conveniently left my outer jacket in the office, whose pocket was where my documents are kept. Farhad then told the policeman that my passport is being processed by my Admin and with the various ministries for a work permit, so I only had a photocopy. The policeman told Farhad to go back to the office to prove my status.
I thought, “Yeah sure, just go and I’ll wait here for you to be back.” But Farhad refused to leave. There was no way he would let me be detained by the policeman in the street, he said. He would not leave me alone. I was immensely touched. Farhad is only a twenty-four year old man, but he stood up and stood by me in such a circumstance.

That gesture reminded me again of Omar, who said to me last year that if he hosted me, he would protect me with his life (see first blog). Time and again, I keep witnessing the beauty of Afghan hospitality and friendship, the self-sacrificial love that defines a people with genuine compassion and kindness. I’ve lived in Singapore, Vancouver, New York and London, but these cities which boast of economic prosperity pale in comparison with the humanity within Afghanistan’s clime. It has been said that poorer nations have more to give, and I can definitely attest to that. I am honoured to have been a recipient of Afghanistan’s gift of friendship, kindness and love.

Anyway, the policeman didn’t let us go. Farhad and I kept our cool and laughed over it. We were not in a hurry to go anywhere. So we waited until help came. Casually, Farhad joked about how it was a case of extortion and corruption: if I couldn’t produce my documents, I just needed to give the policeman some money and he would let me go. Because he was the lowest ranking officer of the security hierarchy, Farhad could make some calls and the policeman would be in hot soup. But he didn’t. I sense we all knew each one is doing his best at his job, and security being the policeman’s concern.

It was only troublesome. That was all.

It is also noteworthy to point out that the policeman left us in the area whilst he walked to and fro at the roundabout, directing the traffic. No, we didn’t cause any jam. I told Farhad that if we wanted, we could have run away — but that would have caused more suspicion and he could fire at us, if he wanted. Since we weren’t running late for our next appointment, we waited until another colleague came to the busy roundabout with my jacket. After I showed him my documents, the policeman said he was teaching me a lesson so I would carry my passport everywhere I went. Lesson learnt indeed.


But surprisingly through it all, there were no antagonistic fear-inducing tactics, unlike the  New York cops whom I had to constantly avoid. This Afghan policeman was just another man performing his duties. He even gave me a firm handshake after the detention, as would all friendly Afghans do.