The Free and The Forgotten

After a horrendous ordeal, British security manager Bill Shaw is on his way home. Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with the terrible injustice suffered by the G4S manager. Back in April, Mr. Shaw was sentenced to two years in prison and fined $25,000 for allegedly bribing Afghan officials to release two impounded G4S vehicles. Earlier this month, an Afghan appeals court finally threw out the charges against Mr. Shaw, citing insufficient evidence. I cannot begin to imagine the hell that Bill Shaw has been through. By all accounts he is a manager of impeccable integrity who believed he had paid a legitimate fine to a member of the NDS, Afghanistan's intelligence agency. In fact, it was his attempt to obtain a receipt for the payment that resulted in his arrest and incarceration. Sadly, Mr. Shaw learned the hard way what happens to honest men in Afghanistan. He spent four months in Kabul’s notorious Pul-i-Charki prison alongside murderers, Taliban and hardcore jihadists who put a $10,000 bounty on his head.

Bill Shaw is not the first westerner to get caught in a web of Afghan dirty dealing nor will he be the last. Extortion, blackmail and kidnapping are endemic in the country and western security contractors, journalists and aid workers are considered rich targets. And it’s not just shady officials, crooked police officers and hooded kidnapper who pose a threat. Sometimes westerners are scammed by the ‘trusted’ local Afghan employee working alongside them (The same court that acquitted Bill Shaw found his Afghan colleague, Maiwand Limar, guilty of conspiring to defraud him).

I’m not surprised by what the Afghans did to Bill Shaw. I am however deeply, deeply disturbed that his employer and the British government allowed him to endure such a nightmare. ArmorGroup, the G4S subsidiary which employs Bill Shaw has been operating in Afghanistan since 2002. The company provides close protection and site-security for commercial, non-government and government clients including Britain’s FCO. ArmorGroup has hit some serious bumps along the way, including having a British manager shot dead during a cash-in-transit move back in 2007. In short, the firm is intimately familiar with the pitfalls of doing business in the country. The Afghans don’t play by the same rules as the west. The NDS does not have proper accounting systems to track ‘fine’ payments which mysteriously vanish into thin air. The senior managers above Bill Shaw should have understood the Pandora ’s Box he was opening when he went back to the NDS for a receipt. In my view, had they taken over the scenario earlier, events may very well have not spiralled out of control. After what Bill Shaw’s been through, ArmorGroup should make sure he never has to work another day of his life.

ArmorGroup let Bill Shaw down in my opinion. But their failure is nothing compared to the FCO which never should have allowed him to spend a single night in jail. The FCO is well aware of the flaws in Afghanistan’s judicial system because British tax payers partially fund it. The Afghan legal system does not serve the law imposed on it by the West. Like all institutions in the country, it is a pawn of powerful interests. I firmly believe the Afghan courts convicted Bill Shaw in order to curb western criticism of the country’s endemic corruption.

Why did the FCO stand by and let Bill Shaw get railroaded? I’d very much like an official answer to that question. My gut feeling is that the FCO was so focused on the greater political picture they didn’t think he was worth fighting for—that is until his family launched a high profile petition and social-networking campaign to draw attention to his plight. Shaw’s wife and daughter fought tooth and nail to make the British government stand up and listen. They even marched petitions up to Downing Street.

Bill Shaw’s family deserve every credit for his release. But not every British citizen jailed in Afghanistan has a vocal support network back home. As I write this, Anthony Malone, an ex-British soldier who went to Afghanistan in 2002 to set up a security and logistics business languishes in Pul-i-Chakri prison. Malone has already served more than two years in jail for ‘non-payment of debt’ which is NOT a criminal offence in Afghanistan. Not surprisingly, Malone recently told a reporter from the Daily Mail he’s been ‘abandoned’ by the British Embassy. Why the hell hasn’t the FCO demanded his freedom?

Cowering behind excuses of ‘diplomacy’ just won’t cut it; especially when the British government encourages British businesses to come to Afghanistan. As the experiences of Bill Shaw and Anthony Malone demonstrate, no matter how much blood and treasure Britain squanders, Afghans will never embrace the institutions imposed on them by the West. It’s time for the British government to acknowledge the limitations of what it can achieve in Afghanistan before another innocent Brit like Bill Shaw is thrown to the wolves.

Bob Shepherd is an ex-SAS soldier and bestselling author of The Circuit. His debut novel The Infidel will be published August 5th by Simon & Schuster UK. To read more posts by him, please visit www.bobshepherdauthor.com.