By Saifullah Ahmadzai

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On 7 August 2010, President Hamid Karzai during his visit to the Civil Service Institute in Kabul announced that he will soon dissolve both national and international Private Security Companies (PSCs) operating in Afghanistan. President Karzai’s argument in favor of his decision was the existence of private security companies as being against Afghanistan’s national interests. Karzai argued that PSCs have created a parallel security force which competes with the Afghan Security Forces (ASFs). Also, PSCs are at times a cause of instability in Afghanistan as well.[1] Therefore, on 17th August, President Karzai issued the eight article decree disbanding all PSCs operating in Afghanistan within the next four months. This step was taken as part of the President’s plan to hand over security responsibilities to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014. Though, it seems that the four month deadline for closure of PSCs is impractical since the necessary procedures for the transference from PSCs to the Afghan security forces, in addition to ending contracts between international organizations and PSCs would stretch beyond the four months designated. The Afghan government should instead dissolve PSCs gradually instead of speedily.

The objective of the first article in the decree disbanding PSCs is to fight corruption, provide better security for locals and their property, prevent irregularities and misuse of weapons, military uniforms and equipments by PSCs. The second article of the decree allows Afghan nationals to be integrated into the Afghan National Police (ANP), however under the third article, foreigners working as private security contractors in Afghanistan would lose their residency permits and the government would purchase their weapons. According to the fourth article of the decree, if the registered PSCs do not agree to sell their transferable goods and equipments, they are able to must leave the country with their weapons and equipments. In the fifth article, it has been denoted that all weapons and equipments held by unregistered PSCs would be seized. The sixth article of the decree provides an exception for the PSCs working inside of compounds used by embassies and foreign consulates and NGOs that are operating in Kabul and in all other provinces. However, these PSCs are unable to roam outside their compounds as a consequence. Instead, article seven of the decree seeks the Ministry of Interior to provide security to foreign workers outside of their compounds, in addition to securing their logistic supply lines from Kabul to other provinces and from the province to the district.[2]

Currently, there are a total of 52 registered PSCs operating in Afghanistan, out of which 27 are owned by foreigners and the remaining 25 are Afghan owned. It is estimated that 40,000 people have found employment opportunities in these private security companies.[3] These security firms have created various sources of income for locals and thus it can be argued that PSCs may even have helped in reducing insecurity since it decreased unemployment levels. Moreover, private security companies have shared the load of providing protection to many institutions within the government security sector such as foreign embassies and consulates and other organizations. The private and international organizations working in Afghanistan have relied extensively on PSCs for guarding their personnel and institutions. It has also opened a lucrative market that has encouraged many Afghans—especially those who were heading armed groups in the past—to invest in this area and open private security companies.

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Now in light of the benefits attached to PSCs, one questions the wisdom behind President Karzai’s decision to ban PSCs from operating in Afghanistan. Private security companies were first established in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001. The reason for this development was because at the time Afghan security forces did not have the personnel or capacity to provide security throughout the country. But now, nine years later, Afghan security forces have increased in numbers and capacity therefore reducing the state’s reliance on PSCs. It must be noted that, PSCs have also been the cause insecurity at times, as PSC personnel are ignorant of Afghan cultures and customs and more trigger friendly then NATO troops. Thus the decision to close PSCs was taken by President Karzai a week after a road side accident involving DynCorp International and a civilian car near Kabul International airport killed four Afghan civilians. DynCorp International provides security in Afghanistan under a U.S. state department contract. This accident sparked anti-American protest in Kabul following the accident.

Fighting corruption was another objective for shutting down PSCs. The relationship between President Karzai and President Obama has become complicated, particularly after President Karzai’s re-election in last year fraud ridden presidential elections. Since then, the blame game between Karzai and Obama over the mismanagement of the elections and foreign aid has surfaced. U.S. officials are consecutively asking Karzai to root out corruption from his administration arguing that corruption has jeopardized the U.S. efforts and presence in Afghanistan. But whenever U.S. officials criticize Karzai’s administration, in return President Karzai argues that foreigners are just as much involved in the very same corruption that they criticize Afghans for. Such revelations have so far included exposing CIA payroll officials and shutting down private security companies. This demonstrates that not only is the Afghan government involved in fueling corruption but also the international community at various levels. President Karzai referred to locals who employed by private security companies as “thieves during the day and as terrorists during the night.”  He has also requested that “if they want to serve Afghanistan they have to join the Afghan police”.[4] This is ironical because it denotes that President Karzai is asking the very same people he is labeling as “thieves and terrorists” to join a national police force already riddled with corruption and serious inadequacies.

Meanwhile, the U.S. reacted carefully against the closure of PSCs in Afghanistan with the Pentagon playing down the entire scenario. The spokesperson for the Pentagon stated that efforts were on going to address the issue in a manner that could meet the security needs of the both nations. Meanwhile, the Chairman of the U.S. Senate on Foreign Relations committee, John Kerry, supported President Karzai’s decision during his visit to Kabul but considers revising the timetable for the PSC closures.

The response from locals Afghans seems to be positive as many have been waiting for this decision recalling that PSCs do not hold themselves accountable to the public or the Afghan government. Khan Agha, a local resident of Kabul told the Herald Scotland, that he was very happy with the decree, stating “I believe that if Karzai has taken one right decision in the last eight years, it is the disbandment of these companies.” [5] Since private security firms function for the purposes of economic benefits and not to provide security for the local population some of their actions have met with sever criticism. For instance, PCSs convoys have created lots of disturbances for locals by blocking streets and stopping traffic. Reports show that some PSCs have been “accused of robbery and human rights abuses, with poorly trained and undisciplined staff putting civilian lives at risk.”[6] There have also been accusations that some PCSs tend to bribe insurgents in order to allow them to pass through insurgent-controlled territory.[7] On the other hand, due to the Afghan government’s lack of control and very few far-reaching practical guidelines, some of these security firms —local and foreign—keep illegal weapons which some of their personnel have abused while others have been directly or indirectly engaged in criminal activities.[8]

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However, there are many challenges that could prevent President Karzai from implementing his decision to close PSCs. Almost all international organizations as well as NATO supplies rely on these private security companies for their security. It is unclear whether international organizations and NATO would accept this decision by the Afghan President especially since they are hesitant to trust notorious Afghan National Police (ANP). In addition, there have also been instances in which ANP officers have even turned their weapons against their foreigner counterparts in anger or retribution. Therefore, there is a possibility that the closing of PSCs might deteriorate the relationship between the Afghan government and the international community, particularly the United States, even more with such a move. Some even believe that it will result in accelerating the withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan as it is seen as provide opportunities for empowering Afghan institutions. Alternatively, closing down PSCs, could also slow down reconstruction and development projects since PSCs were employed to.

Closing PSCs could also see a rise in insurgent attacks on NATO supply routes, that used be prevented because they were paid off for safe passage. In the past nine years, some PCS’s have paid insurgents protection money for safe passage particularly those responsible for maintaining security for NATO supplies. Alternatively, such an occurrence could help the reconciliation process as it would stop sustaining insurgents or irreconcilable elements that are fighting both NATO and Afghan forces.

Interestingly, most of the PSC owners are local warlords, strongmen, Jihadi Commanders who compete for power with the Afghan government. The following chart shows the few instances- of the links that the owners of these PSCs have with high level government officials:[9]

No Name of PSCs Owners’ Name
    Watan Risk Management Ahmad Ratib Popal, a relative of President Karzai
      Kandahar Security Group Rohullah a relative of President Karzai
        Asia Security Group Hashmat Karzai, cousin of President Karzai. Hashmat Karzai says that after the President decree he sold his company
          Reserve Operations Unit Matiullah Khan, nephew of the Advisor to the President, Jan Muhamad Khan from

          Popalzai tribe of Uruzgan province

            Strategic Security Solution

            International

            Hajji Hussain brother of the current first voice President Marshal Fahim
              NCL security company Hamid Jan Wardak son of the current

              Defense Minister Rahim Wardak

                ELITE Security Company Sediq Mujadidi son of the speaker of Upper House of Parliament or Mushrano Jirga Sabghatullah Mujadedid
                  Gulf Manas security company Assadullah Khalid Gull the acting Minister of Border and Tribal Affairs and Gul Agha

                  Sherzai the governor of Nengarhar province and others

                  Closing down of PSCs can be interpreted as a step toward Afghan-led leadership. The annual expenses of PSCs are more than two billion USD. These PSCs charge NATO member countries thousands of dollars per truck to protect their supplies. If PSCs disband the international community will have no option but to trust the Afghan security forces. In this case the international organizations instead of paying PSCs could potentially pay the Afghan government for their security. This would not only garner the Afghan government more control over security matters which is U.S. President Obama’s transition strategy, it could also enable the government to increase the salaries of Afghan forces to prevent decrease attrition rate. Such an endeavor would be required to enable and prepare the Afghan government to stand on its own after NATO withdraws.

                  Even though the implementation phase of the President’s decree has started there still remains concerns that PSCs owners would not relinquish all their weapons as most were probably not registered with the government to begin with. For instance, Khawar Private Security Company owned by brother of Gen. Din Muhamad Jurat an official at the Ministry of Interior, employed more than 1,000 guards and had 998 weapons however he had only registered 654 staff and 400 weapons.[10]

                  To conclude, the Afghan government has failed in monitoring, registration and oversight of PSC activities in the past. However after this decree, there should be strict rules and regulations implemented to facilitate the transparent operations of such firms. Besides, the Ministry of Interior, which has the responsibility to monitor and register all weapons, should regularly review the activities of these companies and execute firm implementation mechanisms. Furthermore, the international community must support Afghan security forces instead of supporting private security companies which inevitably sustain the insurgency. Thus, if this money is spent on equipping and paying Afghan security forces will have more of a positive impact in the long term.

                  Saifullah Ahmadzai graduated from Kabul University, faculty of Law and Political Sciences, Department of Diplomacy and Administration in 2002. He was also a scholarship student in the field of International Law kobe international university, kobe Japan from April 2004 to April 2006. From May 2006 to October 2007, he was working as a head of India and South Asian Affairs in Regional Studies Center of Afghanistan (RSCA) and assistant chief editor for the regional Studies Journal. From October 2007 to October 2010 he worked as a Senior Research Analyst at the Center for the Conflict and Peace Studies (CAPS) which conduct action-oriented research that influence policy makers.   Currently he is an independent analyst and would be contributing to Opinion Maker on regular basis.


                  [1] BBC, Karzai ‘to scrap private security firms in Afghanistan’, 10th August, 2010,

                  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-10930113, accessed on 27th August 2010

                  [2] The decree of the president of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan about disbanding the Private Security Companies, 17th August, 2010

                  [3] BBC, Karzai ‘to scrap private security firms in Afghanistan’, 10th August, 2010,

                  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-10930113, accessed on 27th August 2010

                  [4] Wall Street Journal, Karzai slams ‘foreign advisors’, 9th August, 2010,

                  http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704268004575417293032620332.html, accessed on 24th August, 2010

                  [5] Ibrahimi, Haiburrahman, Herald Scotland. Fears over Karzai’s decision to ban Afghanistan’s private security firms, 5 September 2010.

                  http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/world-news/fears-over-karzai-s-decision-to-ban-afghanistan-s-privatesecurity-firms-1.1052889 accessed on; 25th September 2010.

                  [6] Ibid

                  [7] Ibid

                  [8] Associated Press, Afghans close 2 security firms; more likely, 12th October, 2010

                  [9] The Killid Group, Top Leaders tied to security companies, 21st August, 2010,

                  http://www.tkg.af/english/reports/political/234-top-leaders-tied-to-security-companies, accessed on 30th august,2010

                  [10] Al Jazeera, Hired guns prove trouble for Karzai, 18th August, 2010, http://english.aljazeera.net/news/asia/2010/08/2010816194659884982.html, accessed on 28th August, 2010

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