Kabul: After weeks of negotiations, Afghan officials and foreign diplomats have agreed that a shutdown of private security companies in Afghanistan will have to be carried out in several stages, two officials familiar with the talks said on Wednesday.
The development indicates a possible compromise over the controversial issue, which has occupied top international diplomats and Afghan officials since President Hamid Karzai in August ordered the closure of private companies that provide security guards in the country.
At the time, Karzai said private security companies would be replaced by Afghan security forces.
But he later backed away from a December 17 deadline for the shutdown, after diplomats said the move threatens billions of dollars worth of reconstruction projects. Up to 40,000 private guards work in Afghanistan, mostly guarding embassies, military convoys and development projects.
An Afghan and a foreign official familiar with the negotiations said yesterday the two sides now agree the shutdown should be gradual. They said sticking points remain, such as who would be guarding military convoys.
The government must come up with a proposal in five days on the phased shutdown, they also said. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the negotiations are still ongoing.
Many companies on contracts with the US Agency for International Development have said they can`t insure their staff without private guards.
"We don`t have enough police to replace all the security companies in Afghanistan," said Halal Uddih Halal, a former deputy interior minister and current lawmaker. "If we want to replace private security guards with our police, first we must create an atmosphere of trust."
There have been several incidents where Afghan Army and police have turned their weapons on foreign troops and international organisations do not trust them.
Afghans fear that security guards, once out of a job, could join the insurgency unless they find alternative livelihoods. Insurgents may also seek to pay them for information about the places they previously guarded.
Currently, many security guards are recruits who graduated from police or army training then deserted to work in the private sector for higher wages, one reason Karzai wants to close the companies down.