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Asia

Karzai does not bow to pressure over security firms ban

President Hamid Karzai is insisting that he will halt the operations of private security firms in Afghanistan despite opposition from the international community.

Afghan security officials inspect weapons collected from certain private security firms

Afghan security officials inspect weapons collected from certain private security firms

Once again raising fears in the West that the Afghan president is perhaps not a very reliable partner, Hamid Karzai said recently that he was adamant that the security firms should be banned.

"The problem became clear to us five years ago," he explained. "We talked about it three and a half years ago with the United Nations and ambassadors from the international community. We made it clear that these companies were creating instability, letting bombs explode and harassing people."

Some foreign firms, including Xe Services, which used to be called Blackwater, have been stripped of their license.

Markus Kaim from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs has some understanding for the Afghan position because "it means that the monopoly over the legitimate use of force will be returned to the state. We would find it unacceptable for anyone apart from the police and the army to be allowed to use armed force in Germany."

Security firms operate in a legal vacuum

There are reportedly some 50 private security firms in Afghanistan and they employ around 40,000 people. Many are well-trained former soldiers who often earn more than they would in the regular army.

Certain Afghan soldiers are accused of being corrupt and badly trained

Certain Afghan soldiers are accused of being corrupt and badly trained

The firms – whether Afghan or foreign – do not really report to any institution and thus operate in a legal vacuum. In the past, human rights violations and occasional deaths have gone unpunished. Discontent within the Afghan population is growing by the day.

So, Karzai’s ban is being seen as an overture to the Afghan people. However, military expert Assadullah Walwagi doubts whether the government will be able to make good on its threat: "If all the security firms are shut down then who will replace these 40,000 people?" he asks.

"The Afghan government will have to deploy soldiers. But that could be problematic. 40,000 extra soldiers will cost money. The employees of these private security firms get around 400 dollars a month."

Dubious links with militants

The international community, for its part, worries that many soldiers in the army are corrupt, badly trained and that some have dubious links with the Taliban.

Some international aid organizations might have to withdraw from Afghanistan if security firms cannot guard them

Some international aid organizations might have to withdraw from Afghanistan if security firms cannot guard them

But the private security firms also have dubious links says Kaim: "There are often influential politicians behind these local firms – or influential warlords in Afghanistan's case. It is regrettable that the western money being invested in Afghanistan sometimes lands up with people who are not the actual targets of the money or even with those one is in open conflict with."

Recently, a report that was put to the US Senate claimed that millions of US aid dollars were going to the insurgents as security firms have to bribe local stakeholders so that convoys can travel freely.

The ban is supposed to come into effect in mid-December. However, the Afghan government has already made some concessions as a result of a wave of written protests. Firms that guard embassies and NATO bases will be allowed to continue operating. Author: Martin Gerner, Nabila Karimi-Alekozai, Waslat Hasrat-Nazimi
Editor: Anne Thomas

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