Please remember to close the door behind you in Afghanistan

“The country is in a state of slow decline”, says… Jennifer Rowell, advocacy coordinator for CARE in Afghanistan, in the New York Times.

The country’s reliance on foreign aid has made the situation dire and as security deteriorates it appears many programs will disappear. Relying on mercenaries to protect civilian work creates a whole range of problematic equations. Here’s the Times:

The management at a company that does aid and development work for the American government knows that some of its employees in Afghanistan are keeping weapons in their rooms — and is choosing to look the other way. At another company in the same business, lawyers are examining whether the company can sue theUnited States Agency for International Development… for material breach of contract, citing the deteriorating security in Afghanistan.

An Afghan government plan to abolish private security companies at the end of this month, along with the outbreak of anti-American demonstrations and attacks in the past month, has left the private groups that carry out most of the American-financed development work in Afghanistan scrambling to sort out their operations, imperiling billions of dollars in projects, officials say.

That, in turn, threatens a vital part of the Obama administration’s plans for Afghanistan, which envision a continuing development mission after the end of the… NATO… combat mission in 2014.

The recent upheaval, set off by the burning of Korans by American military personnel on Feb. 20, cast sudden doubt on nearly every facet of the American presence in Afghanistan, including a long-term strategic partnership deal. On Friday, some progress was made when the United States and Afghanistan reached an agreement for the Afghans to take control of the main coalition prison in six months.

But the fallout on the civilian development side of the mission is having an immediate effect, development workers and experts said. In particular, it is magnifying concerns about the new security arrangements being dictated by the Afghan government, which by March 20 aims to replace the private security companies that now guard aid workers with a hastily raised Afghan force.

Faced with the prospect of sudden change in their security arrangements, with no assurance that the Afghan force can be arranged in time or meet their specific needs, organizations are weighing the future of their operations in the country.

Through U.S.A.I.D., the American government contracts billions of dollars in projects to private companies based in the United States. The companies provide for their own security in Afghanistan as required under their contracts with the agency.

Until now, that has meant hiring private security companies, which in most cases provide expatriate managers — usually former American or British soldiers — to oversee Afghan guards. Private security companies also provide security for embassies and the United Nations, all of which are being allowed to keep their existing security arrangements.

The expatriate and Afghan guards, armed with handguns and assault rifles, have long been a fixture on the streets of Kabul, and President Hamid Karzai has railed against their presence as an affront to Afghan dignity and a threat to law and order for almost as long. In 2010, he abruptly ordered the security companies disbanded and replaced by a new force that he said the Afghan government would raise.

The plan that has since taken shape calls for private Afghan guards to become part of the new force, known as the Afghan Public Protection Force, which will be responsible for guarding everything from aid projects to NATO supply convoys.

The force has already trained 8,000 new guards, said Siddiq Siddiqi, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry. He carries his own sidearm for protection.

The roughly 11,000 Afghan guards working for the 45 private security companies operating in Afghanistan will be subsumed into the force this month, he said. They will then be sent back to the same places they worked before, and the companies that had formerly paid a private security company for the guards would instead pay the Interior Ministry to cover their salaries, plus a 20 percent fee for overhead and to provide a profit — in itself, a useful arrangement for the financially strained government.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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