Global Policy Forum

Contracting the Commanders: Transition And The Political Economy Of Afghanistan’s Private Security Industry

In a recent report, Matthieu Aikins argues that what he describes as the “political economy of the international presence” in Afghanistan is central to forecast the future stability of post-occupation politics in the country. US-funded PMSCs have been a central element of such presence. Not only were they implied in cases of violations of humanitarian law, but they also “exacerbated tensions with Kabul and [now] threaten to contribute to the growing political fragmentation and instability.” Furthermore, tens of thousands of Afghans have been hired by PMSCs and will now constitute a considerable unemployed force: this will certainly represent a great challenge for the newly created Afghan Public Protection Force (APPF) to demobilize and reintegrate them.

By Matthieu Aikins

October 2012


To read the full report, click here

Key Findings

•       The settlements among elites that underpin the post- 2001 political order in Afghanistan are deeply entangled with the political economy of the international presence. Transition will therefore have wide-ranging and potentially destabilizing effects on that political order.

•       The United States and the international community have funded an unprecedented private security industry in Afghanistan comprising tens of thousands of Afghan employees, mostly armed guards. Many are linked to strongmen and their networks and are largely unaccountable either to their international patrons or to the Afghan government.

•       The Afghan government and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) have begun to transfer private security company (PSC) operations to the Afghan Public Protection Force (APPF), a new Afghan government force, but a great deal of uncertainty remains about whether APPF will be able to protect international military bases and development contractors, and how it will absorb the commanders and former fighters who currently provide the bulk of PSC workforces.

•       With the projected decline of international military and development spending in Afghanistan post-2014, this huge armed workforce will be largely out of a job. Unemployment in the PSC industry is also part of a larger problem of demobilization and disarmament that Afghanistan will face with the projected cuts to Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and the potential reintegration of former insurgents under a future peace deal.

•       In the near term, the employment of local militias as PSC guard forces will likely continue under a Special-Forces– centered security plan for post-2014 Afghanistan. The use of PSCs by international military forces is part of a combat-driven policy of funding local irregular forces. This program has exacerbated tensions with Kabul and threatens to contribute to the growing political fragmentation and instability in the country.


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