- Lal Bibi was abducted and raped, allegedly by members of the Afghan Local Police
- Critics of the ALP say it has too much power and no oversight
- Supporters say its main job is fighting insurgents not criminals
- Two arrests made in Lal Bibi case; local military prosecutor says he's pursuing three others
In Afghanistan, where honor crimes are common, killing a rape victim isn't rare. But speaking out is.
In northern Kunduz Province, a distraught mother pleads for justice. She says her 18-year-old daughter was raped and shame brought upon the family.
"I want the government to help us," says Lal Bibi's mother. "If they don't, I'll tell them to come and kill my daughter..." She says she just wants justice.
Lal Bibi's mother describes how five armed and aggressive men stormed into their home.
"They handcuffed my daughter, they tied my hands and my husband's. They were saying they wanted to take my daughter."
According to her parents, Lal Bibi was abducted and over the course of the next five days, was beaten by her abductors and repeatedly raped by one of them.
Five men have been accused in the attack. Authorities say two have been detained and are being held for further investigation. Both men insist they're innocent and say the incident was nothing more than a tribal settlement to resolve a family dispute.
Officials and family members say one of Lal Bibi's relatives angered a family with close ties to an Afghan police commander. The details of the story vary, but there's agreement that Lal Bibi's abduction and abuse was in retaliation for a relationship that her cousin had with the daughter of one of the police commander's subordinates.
All of the accused are members of the Afghan Local Police, or ALP, according to authorities.
Trained by U.S. special forces, the ALP was formed to protect civilians in Afghanistan's badlands -- areas where inadequate security forces struggle to fight the insurgency.
The ALP -- a separate entity from the Afghan National Police -- technically falls under the Interior Ministry's control, but human rights activists charge the mostly illiterate recruits receive minimal training and that they're a de facto militia that creates as many problems as it solves.
Critics of the ALP also say the growing power of these armed militias is unchecked -- that many of its 13,000 members are criminals and former Taliban and have been accused of serious human rights abuses and violent crimes while on duty.
Fawzia Koofi, an Afghan member of parliament and women's rights activist, says she's been opposed to the force since its inception because many members had been part of the Mujahideen and, in some areas, formerly with the Taliban.
"The government provided them with guns and weapons," says Koofi, "and there is no system to monitor and check their functioning, their operation on a daily basis."
She adds: "In many cases they don't respect the rule of law. They end up violating women's rights especially."
Koofi says sometimes ALP members use weapons provided to them by the government to impose "their desire on poor people -- especially the women of Afghanistan."
In Kunduz Province, where Lal Bibi is from, "the ALP are in every district and village" says Nadera Geya, Director of the Women's Affairs Department there. She's alarmed that the ALP "have full control" over a people who are largely "illiterate and know little about the law."
A recent report by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) stated the group has been "accused of committing such acts as harassment of people, beating, murder, robbery, abduction, banditry, extortion," and more.
The report found that ALP members had a "lack of awareness about their code of conduct."
Violations are largely hidden from public view in this closed tribal society. Supporters of the ALP acknowledge there have been problems, but counter criticism by insisting it's been effective in combating the raging insurgency.
"There has been exaggeration in terms of issuing statements and concerns about the ALP," says Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi. "It's a big force. We are now in 67 districts in Afghanistan. They are very useful in most provinces. They are doing their jobs and they are able to provide security so that people can go to school and people can work and people can live and that's very important."
Sediqqi maintains the group is held accountable, adding that last year, 20 members of the group who'd been implicated in violence and human rights abuses were brought to Kabul and tried. He says the Interior Ministry understands the concerns, but that doesn't mean the ALP's overall security achievements should be questioned.
"You know this is Afghanistan," continues Sediqqi, "and most villages did not have schools so they could be literate. But at the same time, what they need to be trained is only to fight insurgency - that's their ultimate job. They're not enforcing law in their areas. That's why we are not focusing lots of attention on how to train them in terms of that."
Officials point to the detention of two of the five men as proof they're taking Lal Bibi's case seriously.
Sharif Safi, chief military prosecutor for Kunduz Province, says in addition to the two ALP members already detained, he's pursuing the other three.
"We've sent at least three warrants to the police chief's office to arrest these three men, but so far they haven't," explains Safi. "I am going to seriously follow this."
But women's rights groups contend that even if the men are sentenced, they'll most probably get off lightly, as decades of tradition have shown.
In Afghanistan, harsh tribal justice often trumps the country's legal system.
"In [this] case," explains Koofi, "I'm sure she cannot go back to her district or her province because of the reputation and prestige of the family. Many people still don't regard her as a victim."
Koofi says traditional society will say Lal Bibi has brought this on herself.
Victimized women like Lal Bibi know they're blamed for the abuse and sexual violence they've suffered and expect little to no mercy. Which is why Lal Bibi has gone into hiding and her future is uncertain.