Peacekeeping: Who Guards The Guards?


October 20, 2007: Afghans are nothing if not resourceful, so now, as a result of this resourcefulness, the government is shutting down security companies that are serving as fronts for criminal enterprises. Afghans also have a long tradition of taking foreigners for all they've got. Thus when all manner of NGOs poured into the country after the Taliban were overthrown in late 2001, many Afghans saw an opportunity to make some money off these outlanders. By 2005, there were 300 international, and 1,500 Afghan NGOs operating throughout the country.

There were problems. The Western employees of NGOs, while not highly paid, and infused with a certain degree of idealism, do bring to disaster areas a bunch of outsiders who have a higher standard of living, and different, sometimes dangerous (according to the locals) ideas. Several years ago, all these outsiders brought with them was food and medical care. The people on the receiving end were pretty desperate, and grateful for the help. But NGOs have branched out into development and social programs. This has caused unexpected problems with the local leadership. Development programs disrupt the existing economic, and political, relations. The local leaders are often not happy with this, as the NGOs are not always willing to work closely with the existing power structure. While the local worthies may be exploitative, and even corrupt, they are local, and they do know more about popular attitudes and ideals than the foreigners. NGOs with social programs (education, especially educating women, new lifestyle choices and more power for people who don't usually have much) often run into conflict with the local leadership. Naturally, the local politicians and traditional leaders have resisted, or even fought back.

Eventually, the Afghan government demanded that all NGOs in the country be shut down. That included Afghan NGOs, who are doing some of the same work as the foreign ones. The government officials were responding to complaints from numerous old school Afghan tribal and religious leaders who were unhappy with all these foreigners, or urban Afghans with funny ideas, upsetting the ancient ways in the countryside. The shut-down order got everyone's attention, and deals were made.

But now there are problem with nearly a hundred security firms, that supply over 10,000 foreign and Afghan guards for local and foreign firms, as well as diplomatic personnel, and foreign government employees. Only 59 security firms are registered with the government, while another two or three dozen operate without any regulation. Many of these, and some of the registered ones, are believed to use their security work as a cover for criminal activities (kidnapping, robbery, contract killing). Some of the firms are also suspected of overbilling their clients, and one of them was recently raided by a high end firm (Blackwater) to obtain evidence of cheating a U.S. government agency.

For a long time, the Afghan government was glad to have the security firms, especially the American ones, like Blackwater, that hired highly skilled former military men to provide bodyguards for senior government officials. But now the Afghan police, and government bodyguards, are more numerous and competent. The government wants the security firms to surrender some of their powers, and laws are being passed to do that. In addition, some of the Afghan run "bandit" security firms are going to be taken down.




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