Afghan private security handover looking messy
Heidi Vogt Associated Press February 10, 2012
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The push by Afghanistan’s president to nationalize legions of private security guards before the end of March is encouraging corruption and jeopardizing multibillion-dollar aid projects, according to companies trying to make the switch.
President Hamid Karzai has railed for years against the large number of guns-for-hire in Afghanistan, saying private security companies skirt the law and risk becoming militias. He ordered them abolished in 2009 and eventually set March 20 of this year as the deadline for everyone except NATO and diplomatic missions to switch to government-provided security.
Afghan officials are rushing to meet the cutoff with the help of NATO advisers. But with fewer than six weeks to go, it’s likely that many components will still be missing on March 20. And even once everything falls into place, higher costs and issues of authority over the government guards will remain.
The change imperils billions of dollars of aid flowing into Afghanistan, particularly from the United States. In a country beset by insurgent attacks and suicide bombings, the private development companies that implement most of the U.S. aid agency’s programs employ private guards to protect compounds, serve as armed escorts and guard construction sites.
On March 21, approximately 11,000 guards now working for private security firms will become government employees as members of the Afghan Public Protection Force, or APPF. They will still be working in the same place with the same job. Except now they’ll answer to the Interior Ministry.
“We don’t want to have security gaps. This is really important to our customers and to us,” said the head of the APPF, Deputy Minister Jamal Abdul Naser Sidiqi. It will happen, he says, because the presidential order says it has to.
Officially, everyone is optimistic.
“The APPF is now open for business,” a U.S. embassy official said, speaking anonymously to discuss private agency contracts.
But many are still worried that the entire plan could fall apart. Development contractors for the U.S. Agency for International Development told The Associated Press they were explicitly told not to discuss the changeover with reporters because media attention could endanger the delicate process. Everyone critical of APPF insisted on speaking anonymously for this article
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