Some scholars argue that the Afghan police are regularly engaged in bribery and drug-related corruption. Prevalent corruption in the Afghan police has demonstrably resulted in greater support for the Taliban which is a threat to security. This suggests that a robust anti-corruption strategy is needed to restore legitimacy in the Afghan state and police and to counter the insurgency. This article initially provides a discussion of police corruption in Afghanistan that reveals four interrelated explanations: (1) structural causes of corruption, patronage and nepotism, (2) low pay, (3) state capture, and (4) ethnic favouritism. The research methodology included 70 semi-structured interviews with elites conducted by the author in Kabul during May–June 2010 and 100 surveys conducted with patrolmen and lieutenants in various Afghan provinces during January–March 2012. The article finds that it can prove counterproductive to post poorly paid policemen in distant provinces in order to challenge patronage relations as it tends to exacerbate survival-based corruption. Moreover, improved pay reform could help reduce survival-based corruption in the Afghan police but systemic corruption, clientelism and state capture will remain if it is not implemented alongside other wider structural initiatives.