Afghanistan delays ban on private security firms

Private security contractors guard a road in the province of Ghazni, Afghanistan, 27 October 2010 An estimated 40,000 Afghans work with foreign and domestic security companies

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A deadline for private security companies to end operations in Afghanistan has been extended by at least two months, President Hamid Karzai has said.

A committee would have until 15 November to draw up a timetable for firms to close, his office said.

Once the timetable is approved, companies would have a maximum of 90 days to disband.

In August, Mr Karzai had given the firms until 17 December to close.

Private security firms in Afghanistan provide guards for everything from embassies and aid agencies to supply convoys and US military bases.

Mr Karzai pledged to limit the operations of these companies when sworn in for a second term as president last year.

He says they have become a parallel security system, which undermines the development of Afghan government forces.

There have also been questions raised, even by the US Senate, about the lack of vetting, regulation and accountability of private companies, some of which have been involved in high-profile shootings and other incidents.

Analysis

Quentin Sommerville

President Hamid Karzai says private security firms are a law unto themselves, create instability and are to blame for the deaths of Afghan civilians.

His attempt to shut them down has been popular with the public. But the international community depends on private contractors, as do many aid projects. Hundreds of millions of dollars in development plans would be lost if the companies left.

A number of Afghan government ministers warned President Karzai that the country would grind to a halt if they were suddenly removed.

An estimated 40,000 Afghans work for private security firms - they've been encouraged to join the Afghan army or police force. But many say government pay is too little, and the work too dangerous.

But Mr Karzai has been under intense pressure to extend the deadline to enable foreign organisations to find an alternative.

His offer came after days of talks, culminating in a meeting on Wednesday with international representatives including the UN's representative Staffan de Mistura and the commander of foreign forces US General David Petraeus.

The extension aimed to recognise "the importance of maintaining the continuous delivery of critical development projects and programmes funded by the international community", Mr Karzai's office said in a statement.

Once the decree is implemented, the Afghan government will assume responsibility for "providing necessary security for development and reconstruction projects", the statement said.

There was no indication of where the government will find - or fund - the extra police and troops to provide this service.

Most of the country's armed forces are busy fighting the insurgency.

Mr de Mistura said the international community should, for its part, "respond promptly to President Karzai's long-standing concerns about the conduct of private security firms".

Laurent Saillard of the Agency Co-ordinating Body for Afghan Relief (ACBAR) told Reuters news agency that the ban will not really affect non-governmental organisations anyway.

He said that only a handful of the 2,360 or so NGOs operating in the country use private security.

But profit-oriented development companies, which do use private guards, will have to find alternatives.

Contractors working for international embassies and protecting foreign military bases are already exempt from the ban.

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