Afghanistan approves 'village militias'

Kabul: Afghanistan Wednesday approved the establishment of a local police force, akin to controversial village militias that have been widely debated in the war-torn country, the government said.

The Local Police Force (LPF) would come under the direct control of the Interior Ministry, which has authority over all Afghanistan's police forces, President Hamid Karzai's office said in a statement.

It said "all armed groups" outside Interior Ministry control would be disbanded and reintegrated into the LPF. Approval came at a meeting of the national security council, chaired by Karzai.

"The meeting agreed on several aspects of the proposal including the creation of the LPF under the MoI authority and direct control," the statement said.

"It was also agreed that for the purpose of the rule of law, all armed groups outside the Interior Ministry be gradually disbanded and then be re-integrated into the Local Police Force as and where necessary."

The issue of grass-roots security forces has been contentious in Afghanistan, where warlords with private armies hold seats in Parliament.

Karzai and the commander of foreign forces in the country, US General David Petraeus, have met at least nine times in the past 10 days as they have tried to reach an agreement on creating the local forces, officials have said.

The statement from Karzai's office said Petraeus and US ambassador Karl Eikenberry had also attended the security council meeting.

US media have reported that Petraeus, who took over command of 1,40,000 US and NATO troops on July 4, had been pushing for the establishment of Iraq-style tribal militias to fight Taliban-linked militants in remote Afghan villages.

The reports said Karzai had opposed the plan because of its potential to weaken his government.

Karzai's spokesman yesterday confirmed that talks have been going on between the two men, but played down any difference of opinion on the militias and said a decision was imminent.

Waheed Omar conceded there were widespread concerns about repeating the mistakes of the 1980s, when local militias were set up during the Soviet occupation to fight the mujahideen, which then morphed into private armies.

"We all know that it has good points as well as some threats. We're discussing jointly how to remove those threats before taking a decision," he said.

Bureau Report