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US-Induced Privatization of Security in Pakistan

Dr. Shantanu Chakrabarti is Reader in the Department of History, University of Calcutta. Earlier he was Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.
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  • October 13, 2009

    Pakistan’s desperate efforts to deal with an increasingly grim security situation inside the country faced a new challenge in the form of the United States advocating privatization of security to deal with internal security threats. As of now, the increasing presence and involvement of American officials is being resented by a sizeable section of the Pakistani establishment, including the army. As various opinion polls indicate, there is also a strong undercurrent of public resentment at what is being viewed as ‘American highhandedness.’ The Obama administration’s recent announcement of the provision of an annual aid package of $1.5 billion for five years is being viewed with scepticism within decision making circles in Islamabad. The aid package attaches several conditions seeking to stop terrorist activities within Pakistan and reduce the government’s dependence on the army.

    To achieve these objectives and increase the level of American monitoring and supervisory capabilities, a new proposal forwarded by the American establishment seeks to employ private security contractors provided by the American private military company (PMC) Dyncorp. According to a recent New York Times report, the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies are particularly concerned that DynCorp is being used by Washington to develop a parallel network of security and intelligence personnel within Pakistan. Such fears, in fact, have led the government to target the Inter-Risk Security Company, a local firm hired by DynCorp to provide training to Pakistani men to serve as security guards for American diplomats. The security agency’s office was recently raided by the police and its owner Captain Syed Ali Ja Zaidi, was later arrested.

    Privatization of security through employment of private security contractors in conflict zones (and even otherwise) has in fact become a well established trend in the post Cold War period. The rise of the Private Security Industry (PSI), in fact, has been noticeable all over the globe and not necessarily restricted to weakening or collapsed states. For instance, the industry has become one of the most rapidly growing industries in the United States. In Western Europe, staff in private security companies outnumbers the public police forces in most European Union (EU) states. The poor quality of state security agencies and the legacy of inter-ethnic distrust in former conflict areas have led to a substantial growth of the private security sector in the former socialist countries of Southeastern Europe.

    In cases of external intervention or operations in conflict zones located internally or externally, states and international organizations are increasingly turning to the private sector as a cost effective means of procuring services which would once have been considered to be the exclusive preserve of state controlled security personnel. One can argue that Private Security Companies (PSCs) and Private Military Companies (PMCs) are not security actors in the sense of being ordinary non-state agencies of organized violence but, on the contrary, embody other non-state security providing entities that have been accorded legitimacy by the state. The privatization of security, in this connection, not only displaces or substantially weakens the state as the security shield, but also effectively reduces the state’s monopoly over the legitimate use of force in maintaining order. To many analysts, the rise of the PSCs and their use while pursuing interventionist policies by western countries, particularly the United States, is a cost-effective method of ensuring domination. The United States, increasingly entwined in a multitude of smaller scale global conflicts, finds it useful to employ private contractors in such conflict zones. To many analysts the trend towards privatized security represents the new face of neocolonialism, operating under the guise of neo-liberal market policies through ‘corporate mercenarism,’ providing viable foreign policy proxies for Western governments in the pursuit of their national interests. PSCs also provide great powers like the United States with the opportunity to respond across the conflict spectrum. Their use in peace and humanitarian operations, as well as to provide cutting-edge capabilities for combating transnational threats, conducting offensive information operations, or facing asymmetric threats at the lower end of the conflict spectrum represent untapped potential. Rather than being an usurper of state legitimacy, the PSI, in this connection, has arguably become a tool to further American strategic interests. As an indication of their greater acceptability to policy makers, the US Army Manual on Counter-insurgency (2006), for instance, while highlighting the need for broad basing of the counter-insurgency agenda, favours the recruitment of participants in counter-insurgency related operations from diverse backgrounds including private security contractors.

    Recent American involvement in counterinsurgency operations particularly in Afghanistan and in Iraq have witnessed deployment of large numbers of private security contractors. There have, however, been several problems related to their involvement and use. Overt display of aggressive behaviour by employees of such private firms has been identified as a major problem. Shootouts, torture and harassment of local civilians have been common occurrences in all conflict zones. Several cases of human rights violations by private security personnel have also been reported. Dyncorp, the company which has been offered the contract in Pakistan, has been a major PSC operating in almost all recent American counterinsurgency operations. Several anomalies have already been noted in its operations in Iraq and in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, in particular, DynCorp was in charge of VIP security including that of President Hamid Karzai. Dyncorp is also in charge of the training of the Afghan Police Force and is also involved in the poppy cultivation eradication programme. Several reports have, however, expressed dissatisfaction with the progress and quality of Dyncorp’s performance in these areas. Several acts of highhandedness and rude behaviour have also been noted in the case of Dyncorp employees. This, however, did not prevent the company from continuing to bag new lucrative contracts under the Bush administration. It seems that its lobbying power has remained intact under the Obama administration as well. Given its poor track record in Iraq and in Afghanistan, the concern expressed by the Pakistani establishment is not without some validity.

    More generally, the emergence of new patterns of conflict along with the process of globalization have led to the reconfiguration of our understanding of security and the emergence of a new security paradigm in recent years. Within this new paradigm, security is not just the preserve of the state, but of a whole multiplicity of actors. Privatization of security under state initiative, in this connection, may be looked upon as one such measure. The process of privatizing security, however, even when attempted by the state to strengthen itself against dissent, often ends up in weakening the state itself. While different categories of private security providers attempt to reconstruct the state in order to ensure stability and security sufficient for its normal functioning and even survival, they also remove the state’s monopoly over organized violence. Given the predicament already faced by Pakistan, this may be the beginning of a more ominous trend.