Political Pissing Matches

Private security contractors working for Western PSCs in Kabul added another occupational hazard to their already considerable portfolio this week after Bill Shaw, a manager for Britain’s largest security firm was convicted of bribery by an Afghan court and sentenced to two years in prison. I have no doubt that Mr. Shaw was acting in good faith when he paid a $20,000 fine for the release of two improperly licensed vehicles owned by his employer, G4S; parent company of ArmorGroup. By all accounts, he is an upstanding manager who got caught in a political pissing match between Karzai’s government and the West over who is fuelling corruption in Afghanistan. In light of the recent rows between Karzai and his western backers, the railroading of Mr. Shaw certainly smacks of the Afghan President getting a little of his own back. But harassment of foreign PSCs in Afghanistan is certainly nothing new. Since at least 2006, Afghan authorities have been stopping foreign contractors at police roadblocks, confiscating weapons, communications systems and vehicles, raiding security company compounds and arresting consultants on fabricated charges. Some have argued that such activities are needed to rein in rogue contractors. While a small minority of foreign security personnel in Afghanistan have behaved like cowboys, it’s my firm belief that the hounding of foreign PSCs has nothing to do with law enforcement and everything to do with lining the pockets of corrupt Afghans.

So-called ‘fines’ are just the tip of the iceberg. There are shed loads of cash to be made servicing commercial security contracts in Afghanistan and the country’s warlords and Generals who run their own local PSCs/militias have been trying to get rid of the foreign competition for years. As poor Bill Shaw discovered, that agenda has now converged with Karzai’s need to demonstrate that the international community is also to blame for corruption in his country.

The Times reported that Mr. Shaw cleared the fine with his head office in London before paying it and that immediately prior to his arrest; ‘someone’ suggested he ‘leave the country on a British military flight.’ Having managed commercial security teams in Afghanistan since 2004, I would have thought G4S’s managers in London would have insisted he leave the country the second he was called in for questioning. They were incredibly naïve in my view. There are no objective rules in Afghanistan. The Afghans make them up as they go along. After nine years, G4S and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office which encourages British businesses to come to Afghanistan should know this. I hope both are playing hardball right now to secure Mr. Shaw’s release.

Of course, the real sting in the tail is that the judicial system that convicted Mr. Shaw is partially funded by the British tax payer. How can Britain continue to justify pouring money and troops into Afghanistan when men like Bill Shaw who are trying to facilitate business and development in the country are hung out to dry?

Finally, let’s not forget Maiwand Limar, the Afghan G4S employee who was convicted and sentenced to two years in prison alongside Bill Shaw. You can guarantee poor Mr. Limar won’t be enjoying any special treatment in Kabul’s notorious Pul-e-Charkhi prison. I hope G4S are working as hard to clear his name as they are Mr. Shaw’s and that both men’s families will be fully provided for while this political storm rages.

Bob Shepherd is an ex-SAS soldier and bestselling author of The Circuit. To read more posts by him, please visit www.bobshepherdauthor.com.