AFGHANISTAN: Security companies fall foul of gun controls

Publisher Name: 
Times Online U.K.
Afghan police have begun a crackdown on private security guards
carrying

guns in Kabul, paralysing foreign aid and other organisations
whose


rules oblige them to travel with armed escorts. The Interior
Ministry


has also detained four foreign employees of two security companies
for


several days, including two British citizens who were released on


Saturday but still have charges pending against them, The Times has
learnt.




A French citizen and a Nepalese former Gurkha are thought still to be
in


custody after being detained, like their two British colleagues,
on


suspicion of carrying unlicensed firearms.




The Government says that it is trying to control illegal weapons
and


improve the regulation of an industry that has grown from nothing
in


2001 to at least 60 companies employing almost 30,000 people,
including


up to 10,000 foreigners.




Industry insiders say that elements of the police are trying to
cripple


foreign firms and drive their clients to Afghan firms with links to
the


Interior Ministry or other parts of the Government. ASG, one of
the


biggest Afghan private security companies, is owned by a cousin of


President Karzai.




Others suggest that some government officials are suspicious of
private


business in general and want to renationalise the entire security


industry. Either way, the issue threatens to disrupt international


civilian and military operations in Afghanistan, where private
security


companies even guard food and drink supplies for military bases.




"For a long time this has been seen as a private sector problem and,
as


much as people felt sorry for us, they didn't want to get involved,"
an


industry source said. "But if it affects us, it affects our clients.
The


people who suffer in the end will be the people of Afghanistan."




The Government has been putting pressure on the industry since
last


year, when it scrapped its old licensing regime and started drawing
up


new regulations, which among other things raised the licence price
from


$10,000 (£5,000) to $120,000. The new regulations were approved
by


Cabinet last month, but have not yet been through parliament,
leaving


many security companies in a legal limbo.




"It's all very confusing," another industry insider said. "The
problem


is that some people in the police and Government are connected to
the


dodgier local security firms."




The latest blow came on Friday, when a local television station
reported


that police planned to search all private security guards and
arrest


anyone found carrying a firearm. Although that plan has not been


confirmed officially, private security companies have taken it
seriously


because of the recent arrests, and some have decided to stop
carrying


firearms altogether. That has forced some of their clients to halt


operations, because their security regulations insist that they be


escorted by armed guards.




They are believed to include USAid, the US Government aid agency,
and


Bearing Point, a consultancy linked to the World Bank that advises
the


Afghan Finance Ministry. Neither organisation was available for
comment.


"It has started to have an impact on our clients and some have
ceased


operations - and these are not small operations, they are big
players,"


one of the industry sources said.




Many aid workers and other foreigners had already had their
movements


limited by curfews or "lockdowns" introduced after the Taleban
attacked


the Serena Hotel in Kabul last month.




Zamarai Bashary, an Interior Ministry spokesman, denied that a
blanket


ban on armed guards had been introduced but admitted that a
crackdown


had begun and several arrests had been made. "We have arrested a
number


of people - some foreigners, some Afghans - who were carrying
weapons


with no licence under the name of private security companies.
These


people have to comply with our laws and regulations, otherwise
they
damage the security situation rather than helping it." He
declined to
identify those arrested.




Sources told The Times that they included two British and two
Afghan


employees of Blue Hackle - a British private security company -
and that


they were detained in Kabul on January 27. The Afghans are thought
to


have been freed yesterday. The British Embassy in Kabul declined
to


comment.




Blue Hackle said: "We are of course delighted that our employees
have


been released, but sensitivity is obviously very high and it would
be


inappropriate to comment at this stage." The Frenchman and the
Nepalese


are thought to work for Global, another large security company
whose


clients include USAid.




Global staff were not immediately available for comment.




*Growing concern *




*60: *private security companies (PSCs) are currently working in


Afghanistan




*20: *of these are owned and run by Afghans




*30,000:* security personnel are employed by all PSCs across the
country




*5,000: *of these personnel are Westerners 5,000 are nonAfghans. Many
of


these are from Turkey, Pakistan, India and Nepal




*17:* of the PSCs are UK-owned




*43,750:* handguns, rifles, machineguns and rocket-propelled
grenades


are in the arsenals of PSCs




*3.5:* weapons for each employee




*6,000:* personnel are employed by the two largest US companies,


Blackwater and DynCorp 500 average daily pay, in US dollars, for


international PSC staff




Source: Swisspeace; Afghan PSCs Association
AMP Section Name:War & Disaster Profiteering