Thursday, October 18, 2007

More Security Firms Shut Down in Afghanistan; Counter-Narcotics (Updated)

The Afghan police have shut down two more private security contractors, seizing illegal weapons (not difficult to do in Afghanistan, if truth be told), and arresting some company officials.

Two new articles offer critiques of the U.S. counter-narcotics strategy similar to those offered here. In the Boston Globe, Paul Fishstein, Director of the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, uses ACTUAL RESEARCH to explain why both the U.S. policy of enhanced poppy eradication and suggestions to license legal opium will fail at best and, at worst, make the rest of the international operation in Afghanistan fail:
[T]he US government's new counter-narcotics strategy uses still un-quantified links between opium and the Taliban to argue for merging counternarcotics with counterinsurgency. Explicitly equating growing poppies with insurgent activity may play well with the public at home, but merging the war on drugs with the global war on terror will be read in Afghanistan's unstable areas as a war on farmers - hardly consistent with the professed goal of winning hearts and minds. And an aggressive campaign that achieved the national target of 25 percent eradication in Helmand Province (the area which most hangs in the political balance) would likely reflect the old adage that the operation was a success, but the patient died.
In the Central Asian and Caucasus Institute Analyst, Haroun Mir (former advisor to Ahmad Shah Massoud) and Jens Laurson of the International Affairs Forum answer the question "Will Washington's New Counternarcotics Policy in Afghanistan Work?" with a clear "no." They recommend:
Instead of linking counternarcotics to counterinsurgency strategy, U.S. policy would be well-advised to link it to a comprehensive long-term development strategy. Narcotics in Afghanistan are not uniquely a law enforcement issue. It is a well established economy that feeds and sustains millions of poor Afghan households. Afghanistan’s centralized administration is years away from establishing its authority in far and remote districts. It remains a traditional country, where traditional institutions could be used as tools in counternarcotics policy.

Islam and tribal values are of unique importance in all of Afghanistan, but particularly in the Pashtun tribes of the southwestern provinces. These two elements can be exploited for counternarcotics purposes. The Afghan government is making use of traditional jirga (council) system, such as the Joint Peace Jirga, to resolve problems with neighboring Pakistan, but it does not make efficient use of it to empower local tribal chieftains and spiritual leaders in the struggle against drugs.

The issue of narcotics in Afghanistan should be dealt locally rather than nationally. If a fraction of available financial resources were dedicated to empower traditional councils in villages and district levels, there would be greater opportunities to communicate with villagers and enhance public information. These institutions could become good interlocutors between the government and local farmers in the context of an efficient and effective counternarcotics policy.
Does anyone know of any independent expert or any Afghan anywhere who believes the U.S. strategy is a good idea? Of course there are Afghans supporting their extended families with salaries from donors that require them to work for this program, but I have talked to a number of such people and have yet to find one who really believes in what he or she is doing. Some politicians from Northern Afghanistan are trying to use this issue against their rivals from the South and East, but this is not based on faith in the counternarcotics strategy. I would be interested to hear if anyone knows of a contrary example.

Update: A well-informed friend in Kabul has offered some comments on my posts about private security firms:
I saw your two posts re PSCs under More Security Firms Shut Down in Afghanistan; Counter-Narcotics ( While I agree with much of what you're saying I would like to introduce some additional information which might not have been available to you. I hope this might lead to a more balance approach:


The closure of the two security companies with a total of less than 100 employees in Kabul is insignificant in an industry employing upwards of 10,000 armed guards (and that are the registered ones only).


The real challenge to the government is the fact that the Ministry of Interior does not have the capacity to replace the protection guaranteed by the private companies outside of Kabul. While there might be enough room in the police to replace some guards inside the capital, capacity and
morale of the police are insufficient to take on the task of guarding let's say Kajaki dam in Helmand.

It is also interesting that the 'crackdown' comes at the time when the MoI has finally completed with significant inputs from the international community a regulation which could bring the market under control. It is interesting that the regulation was finalised on 5 August and has since been put on the shelf by the GoA which has started now to 'crack down' instead of introducing a legal procedure that would take care of many of the black sheep.

I cannot help the impression that some competitors closely linked to the President are trying to (a) extract bribes from the PSCs for not being shut down arbitrarily and (b) eliminate rivals.


Sabet did not try to shut down Jurat's company (which is legally his brother's company) and was then aggressed, but it was the other way round. If you try to say that he was beaten by Jurat's supporters because he tried to shut down Khwar (the company) you mix up the chain of events.

d) Is the problem the international contractors? Pointing to international contractors and their problems is deflecting attention from the biggest problem - the Afghan PSCs. In foreign firms the foot soldiers might come from an illegal armed group, but the command and logistics elements are all foreign and will collapse in crisis or not lend them easily to factional agendas. The Afghan firms unify the foot soldiers with C2 [command and control] from one faction and are therefore much more dangerous - best example provided by Khawar of Jurat.

Nobody so far has questioned the PSCs owned by illustrious people such as [names of relatives of current or past ministers]. Nobody has looked into the firms operating under the control of local warlords [names of former top provincial officials] in the East and South either.


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