COMMENT: State security and Taliban insurgency —Musa Khan Jalalzai - Monday, February 14, 2011

Source :\02\14\story_14-2-2011_pg3_4

There are two parallel armies operating in Afghanistan, the Afghan National Army (140,000) and private militias (125,000). These parallel forces operate under different military and counter-insurgency strategies. They often seduce each other’s soldiers, and buy them in exchange for dollars

The key objective of the social contract between the citizens and the state is the provision of security. Without the social contract, the life of citizens is poor, nasty and solitary. The social contract is the concept that human beings have made an agreement with their government, whereby the government and the people have distinct roles and responsibilities. The history of Afghanistan tells us that there has never been a social contract to speak of as far as the will of the Afghan people was concerned. After the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, there was a hope that peace and security will return to Afghanistan and the basic principles of the social contract will be taken into regard. As the state had badly failed due to the 30 years long civil war, the concept of the social contract remained confined to paper. Growing insecurity, poverty and unemployment forced millions into Kabul. These innocent civilians became prey to private criminal militias, warlords and Taliban insurgents.

As we all know, the Afghan National Army (ANA) is a legitimate army of the country but the military and security role of private militias, military contractors and warlords (from convoy security to the campaign against the insurgency) has raised some questions. A weak and poor Afghanistan at present is the wrestling ground of private security contractors, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the US and the ANA. They all want to defeat the Taliban insurgency but have failed. In my last article, I mentioned some criminal warlords who get millions of dollars from various states across the country in exchange for their convoys’ security maintenance.

It must be mentioned here that all NATO states and the US maintain their convoys’ security through private contractors. The Afghans want to know about the legitimacy of the ANA and its genuine role of defending the state and countering insurgency. If NATO and the US do not rely on ANA, do not want to train it properly and give more importance and funds to warlords’ private armies, the question is, what is the strategic role of ANA and what does it feel about this negative military and reconstruction approach?

One thing is clear that ANA does not support the way the US and NATO are tackling the insurgency in the country. Keeping in view these misunderstandings, flawed strategies and the privatisation of the security process, the Afghan president set a deadline for handing over of many security duties from security firms to the Afghan national police. The president demanded this substantial private security industry, which guards everything from western embassies to NATO supply convoys, be scrapped as soon as possible. In the US Congress, the $ 2.2 billion trucking service was criticised and the issue raised that some private companies are paying protection money directly to the Taliban insurgents.

A majority of embassies in Kabul is not willing to be guarded by an Afghan police force as they have been involved in the killing of UK, US and NATO soldiers in the past. The issue was further complicated as the US criticised Canada for the allocation of less than $ 41 million to hire private militias in Afghanistan over the last four years. Gul Agha Sherzai earned $ 2.5 million since 2008 by providing security outside the provincial reconstruction base. Former governor of Kandahar province, Asadullah Khalid, got millions of dollars by establishing his own private militia known as Brigade 888.

Moreover, as Australian journalist Rafael Esptien revealed in October last year about the soldiers loyal to an Afghan warlord undertaking secret training on Australian soil, the Pandora’s Box opened. The same day, an Australian TV channel reported six fighters allied to warlord Matiullah Khan arrived in the country for military training. The news report published in an Australian newspaper The Herald (‘Our man in Afghanistan and his road to riches’, October 29, 2010) claimed that Matiullah Khan is earning millions of dollars each month in exchange for protection of their military re-supply convoys on the road from Tarin Kot to Kandahar. These warlords and their militias have close relations with the Taliban. They fight NATO and ANA at night for as little as 20 dollars a day.

We can understand that there are two parallel armies operating in Afghanistan, the Afghan National Army (140,000-strong) and private militias (125,000-strong). These parallel forces operate under different military and counter-insurgency strategies. They have different concepts of security and law and order. They often seduce each other’s soldiers, and buy them in exchange for dollars. Both the armies are deeply involved in the drug trade, criminal activities, kidnapping and rape. As far as the private security function of the private contractors is concerned, they are not accountable to the Afghan authorities.

The military technical agreement between the Afghan interim government, the US and ISAF gives ISAF the authority to use military force to accomplish its mission. According to the agreement, all ISAF men are immune from arrest by the Afghan authorities, and they have no right to hand them over to any international tribunal or state without the consent of the contributing nation. In 2002, the US and the Afghan government agreed that American personnel would have the status equivalent to technical staff of the US Embassy under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961.

This agreement provided the opportunity to the US technical staff, soldiers and officials to run private firms with suspicious businesses across Afghanistan. Afghanistan understands that private security contractors are corrupt and involved in arms smuggling. They buy weapons from the black market, smuggle them into Afghanistan, hire criminals and arm them. The allegations levelled against the private security contractors and Blackwater in the country included violent assault, petty theft, extortion, looting, drug trafficking, kidnapping, rape, prostitution, and an illegal arms trade. They show low respect towards the Afghan security forces. They ignore traffic rules and commit criminal acts like robberies. These private contractors, like DynCorp that guarded President Karzai for years, did not allow him to travel within his own country. As privatisation of security in Afghanistan continued, President Obama further awarded $ 220 million funds to a new contractor known as Blackwater. This criminal militia has been involved in murder and indiscriminate killings of civilians in Iraq. These US contractors drew sharp criticism in Congress. The US Congress understands that the notorious Blackwater was kicked out of Iraq after its mercenaries killed 17 civilians in Baghdad’s al-Nissor Square.

In Afghanistan, more than 60 registered contractors are suspected of involvement in criminal activities. Moreover, the Afghan president has already accused these contractors and their criminal militias of fuelling war in the country. “These private security firms have caused insecurity and they have caused infringement of people’s rights,” the president complained. The US Senate armed services committee, in its report concluded that the contractors have turned to “warlords and strongmen linked to murder and kidnapping”.

The writer is the author of Punjabi Taliban. He can be reached at

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