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Update No: 073 - (19/12/07)

Private security crackdown intensifies
Following an initial crackdown in October, in December the Afghan authorities announced that they wanted all security companies to close down in the long term, having decided that their existence was against the constitution. The government declared that it was only ready to allow a small number of them to operate for the time being as long as they strictly respected regulations, and in order to meet the needs of international organisations like the UN. At present Afghan security agencies do not have the capacity to replace private security companies entirely. Kabul accused many such private security companies of being involved in criminal activities, which is likely true, but there is also a political struggle going on, where a component of the cabinet seeks to eliminate a major source of influence for the old Tajik militias which occupied Kabul in 2001, after the fall of the Taliban.

Spraying poppies from the air falls off the agenda
After a long tug of war, the US embassy in Kabul conceded defeat in its attempt to impose aerial eradication in Afghanistan. The December announcement by no means implies an abandonment of the eradication strategy, which will now increasingly be focused on buying the support of Afghan provincial authorities promising cash handouts to those provinces which successfully eradicate. The plan was already used this year, with prizes of US$500,000 offered to the complying provinces. 
Next year the prizes will double and there are plans for further increases. This policy is likely to achieve some success in promoting eradication in provinces where the poppy culture is of modest importance, but at the same time is pushing the poppies towards the unruly provinces of the south, unwittingly contributing to fund the insurgency. Another likely result of this policy is to further increase the cultivation of marijuana, which already went up by 40% in 2007, according to UNODC estimates.

A deal between Pakistan and Afghanistan was signed in November, according to which power lines between Tajikistan, Kyrghyzstan and Pakistan will be built through Afghanistan. Apart from the direct benefit to Afghanistan, which will consist in a quarter of the electricity transported through the lines, the deal is important because is the first one allowing Afghanistan to turn into a transit route between Central and South Asia – a precursor perhaps of oil /gas pipelines for some time in the future, as the Turkmen project TAPI is now firmly in stasis, with considerable doubts as to whether Turkmenistan, with its other commitments has even got the reserves, it claimed to have, to be able to supply to Pakistan and India.

Afghan strategy under scrutiny
The pressure on the Afghan government to fight corruption keeps growing. After the informal and unofficial approaches of the last few months, at the end of November it was the Congress that came out with open criticism of the Kabul cabinet. Following a visit to Kabul in September, a report on the findings has been submitted to the White House. It is widely believed that without a major shift in Karzai’s stance, corruption cannot be defeated.

The new Supreme Court appointed in 2006 has been trying to bring back under control the judiciary, widely considered to be utterly corrupt. Unable to replace the old judges because of the lack of better-trained ones, all the Court has been able to do so far has been to re-introduce some supervision of the judges, with each member of the Court being responsible for a specific region of Afghanistan.

Although Washington’s official position concerning the goings-on in Afghanistan is one of ever growing successes, there are other signals that a critical reassessment has begun. Defence Secretary Gates is reportedly considering arming tribal militias in southern Afghanistan to fight against the Taliban. The use of militias has always been considered controversial because of their lack of discipline, of their track record of abuses and of the difficulty to control them. Arming them in the south would also create discontent among former militia leaders in other parts of the country who have been officially disarmed. It is an open secret that militias already fight alongside US, British and other forces in the south, but these are technically illegal. Expanding their numbers would be problematic unless they are officially recognised.

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