Security firms in Afghanistan win reprieve on ban

Afghanistan`s president has extended a deadline for private security firms to disband in the strife-torn country, offering a brief reprieve on a ban that had potentially endangered vital aid projects.

Kabul: Afghanistan`s president has
extended a deadline for private security firms to disband in
the strife-torn country, offering a brief reprieve on a ban
that had potentially endangered vital aid projects.

Hamid Karzai`s order for the dissolution of all
private security companies by the end of the year had caused
widespread concern that aid and development projects worth
billions would be unable to continue without adequate
protection.

The Afghan government had already partially rolled
back the ban, allowing private protection to continue for
diplomats and foreign military bases within their compounds.

Early this week Karzai asked the international
community, which relies on the firms as security deteriorates,
for a list of projects needing protection.

Under intense pressure from his Western diplomatic and
military backers, Karzai backtracked further yesterday, adding
at least two months to the original deadline, for the private
firms to cease activities in Afghanistan.

Officials in Kabul said that in vocal meetings with
Karzai, diplomats and military officials had driven home the
message that many development projects had been put on hold
while the ban was under consideration.

Afghanistan, one of the world`s poorest countries and
in the grip of a violent insurgency, relies on billions of
dollars in aid to build basic infrastructure and create jobs
to prevent men joining the Taliban.

Karzai`s move to outlaw private security firms is
widely seen as an attempt to curry favour with ordinary
Afghans who regard them as private militias acting above the
law.

In a statement from his office, Karzai said he had set
up a committee to oversee the implementation of the ban,
announced on August 17 as Presidential Decree 62.

The committee would submit its timetable to the
president on November 15 and once the plan was approved, the
firms would have 90 days to disband, at which point the Afghan
government will assume responsibility for security.

Private security firms in Afghanistan are employed by
US and NATO forces, the Pentagon, the United Nations, aid and
non-governmental organisations, embassies and foreign media.

They employ about 26,000 registered personnel, though
experts say the real number could be as high as 40,000.

Following the collapse of the Taliban regime in the
2001 US-led invasion, private security firms rushed in to fill
a vacuum created by a lack of adequately trained police and
army forces.

US ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry told
reporters yesterday that Washington endorsed the ban while
welcoming the extended deadline.

"There has never been any disagreement on the decree
itself, it is the implementation of the decree" that had
caused concern, he said.

PTI

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