National ownership is the basic principle in discussing issues related to developing countries. It is also a key to the promotion of peace-building in Afghanistan. In considering national ownership, it is important to distinguish the two elements behind the concept – legitimacy and capacity. These two elements are inter-linked and essential for the promotion of national ownership.
The national police, being a core function of a state and the public face of the government, are considered a key to national ownership. The examination of the police will give us a useful insight into the question of national ownership. A comparison will be made between Afghanistan and Timor-Leste, which, despite differences in their situations, share many issues relating to developing a national police force.
In Timor-Leste, executive police power is being transferred from the United Nations to the Timorese Police. The conditions for such transfer – institutional, operational and administrative readiness – are concerned both with the capacity and the legitimacy of the Timorese police. The case study in Timor-Leste will show the strong linkage between the two elements; the lack of capacity will undermine the legitimacy of the police and the government, while the police will not be able to sustain a credible service if not backed with legitimacy.
The situation is more serious in Afghanistan, where the Afghan police service is suffering from a number of serious issues ranging from the shortage of resources and the lack of adequate training to wide spread corruption. The Afghan police’s lack of capacity undermines its legitimacy and public mistrust makes its operation more difficult.
As the police is a key pillar of national ownership, to strengthen the Afghan national police contributes to the promotion of Afghan national ownership. In view of the deteriorating security situation, serious efforts should be made to strengthen the Afghan police service. At the same time, it is imperative to build up trust with local people by promoting institutional integrity and strengthening servicing activities. There is a need to take a balanced strategic approach linking capacity building to legitimacy.
The reform process must be nationally owned. Policy priorities should be set by Afghans and international donors must respect them. The United Nations, with its distinctive strength – impartiality and broad support from the international community, and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, with its broad mandate and extensive network of field offices, could play a meaningful coordinating role in this area.