By: Bakht Jamal for Opinion Maker

The post-9/11 transformation in Afghanistan gave birth to an environment where the private sector flourished. Health, education, banking, telecommunication and security are the most noticeable areas that are increasingly owned by private companies. While other sectors may be normal businesses, the security sector is more sensitive and more controversial, given the fact that Afghanistan is a post-conflict country and is still facing fierce insurgency from the Taliban in many areas.

Many of the local security companies are owned by the traditional warlords. These warlords have always been against the process of disarmament of their militia. The emergence of private security companies provided the right opportunity for them in turning their militia into security companies, giving them an opportunity to maintain their traditional military and political power. Most of the personnel of these security companies are ex-combatants, many of whom also have criminal backgrounds. In other words, the same people who once committed atrocities against the innocent Afghan civilians during the civil war have now been provided with licensed weapons.

Private security companies may be important to fulfil the needs of the private and voluntary sectors. However, many of the personnel and in some cases the founders of these companies have criminal backgrounds and constitute pressure groups to maintain their military and political influence in the country. Recently President Hamid Karzai seriously criticised these security companies. He vowed to shut down all private security companies by 17 December 2010. The deadline set by Hamid Karzai may or may not be met; however, his criticism does indicate the seriousness of the risks arising from these security companies.

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Many of the private security guards employed by some of these companies have been involved in intimidation, robbery, kidnapping and committing other human rights abuses. In 2007 a former senior level official of the ministry of interior affairs and the owner of a private security company, General Din Muhammad Jurat, attacked the Attorney General of Afghanistan, Abdul Jabar Sabet, with his company’s security personnel. Having survived the attack, Sabet issued an arrest hpw order for Jurat. However, Jurat refused to comply, saying that the attorney general had no authority to summon him. This is a typical example of the arrogance of a northern alliance warlord. It also tells us what the owner of a private security company can do to an average Afghan when he can challenge such a high-level government official.

Disarming and demobilisation of the former combatants is an important element of the peacebuilding process. Millions of dollars have been spent on disarming and demobilising former combatants through the DDR and DIAC processes under the auspices of the United Nations Development Programme. However, the concept of the private security companies gave these former combatants an opportunity to re-arm, in most cases under the leadership of the same commander/warlord as in the wartime. Many people joined the DDR process because they wanted to get rid of their illegal weapons and acquire licensed ones by working with a private security company. This implies that such opportunist ex-combatants have become more powerful than before. Therefore, if such security companies are not dealt with seriously, there will always be a danger of organised violence and human rights abuses, which will have adverse affects on the peace building efforts in the country.

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Bakht Jamal was brought up in eastern Afghanistan. Nearly 30 years ago he was born in Ningrahar province when his country was invaded by the USSR.

He started his career as a Civil Society Worker in 2000 in Afghanistan. He is a graduate of The University of Manchester with a Masters degree in International Development.  Jamal is an active public speaker and campaigner for peace- building and human rights in Afghanistan.

References:

Institute for War & Peace: Afghan Government Divided Against Itself [Online], Available:

Global Security Organisation: Afghanistan: Last ex-combatant disarmed under DDR [Online], Available: 

Global Facilitation Network for Security Sector Reform: Bureacratic Façade and political realities of disarmament and demobilisation in Afghanistan [Online], Available:

Afghanistan- Peacebuilding: Disarmament Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) [Online], Available: 

United Nations Development Programme: Reintegration has been completed in time and within costs [Online] Available

BBC: Karzai abandons plans to scrap private security firms[Online], Available:

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