What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Thinking of PSCs, their guns and the pay hierarchy

I'm reading the Swisspeace report (pdf) on Private Security Companies in Afghanistan that I got to thanks to Bonnie Boyd who wrote about it a couple of weeks back.
These security companies would be in an interesting position anyway, just like in Iraq, since in some parts of Afghanistan you find a 360-degree battlefield where your ordinary security company can all of a sudden become a fighting military company. Distinctions may be elusive in that sort of context. But of course a security company in Afghanistan can be anything but ordinary.
Here's an excerpt to attest to that (p. 18.):
" Many PSCs in Afghanistan hire armed staff due to the problem in obtaining arms legally in Afghanistan. Currently, only the Afghan government, foreign military and embassies are allowed to import a limited amount of weapons for the use of their international staff. This places PSCs in an ethical dilemma. On the one hand, the insecure environment and/or clients calls for armed guards, on the other, there is no official weapons market in Afghanistan where they can access them legally. This can cause three possible reactions. The first and most expensive option would be to only use international staff (little practised in Afghanistan in the guarding sector). The second option would be to hire local armed individuals, turning a blind eye to the source of their weapons. The third and mostly criminal option is to buy weapons on the black market. All three options seem to be practised in Afghanistan, with the second putting a burden on newly hired staff members without a militia background who are only able to take up their work if they acquire a weapon. " (Footnotes omitted - P.M.)
Reading of local militias turned PSCs, one could think this could be some Afghans' big answer to globalisation. Getting the world to pay them for securing themselves. But life is not a fairytale, and here's some proof regarding that (p. 21.):

" Despite this “secrecy” around PSC salaries, most estimates converge around similar sums, showing a clear pay hierarchy. (...) The pay of local staff is on average higher (sometimes more than double) than that paid to official security forces (ANA or ANP) and quite similar to what NGOs and humanitarian agencies tend to pay their guards. Considering the current living costs in Kabul, however, the minimum salary is often insufficient and would barely feed a family of five. Local staff hired via a militia commander might get even less. It is alleged that the commander takes about 1/3 of salaries as a form of commission before passing it on to their fighters. This means that some PSC staff may receive below USD 100 a month, which still might be higher than that of local security forces (about USD 70). " (Footnotes omitted - P.M.)

Seems to me like here we might have some fundamentally huge contradiction.
The pay hierarchy takes into account the purchasing power of internationals back in their home countries. Nepalese average income (and purchasing power) for Nepalese, U.S. average income (and purchasing power) for U.S. citizens. Etc. With the risk factor incalculated, of course. People get paid so that the issue of opportunity cost is taken care of - they are offered wages that exceed what they would get back at home. That's rational, that's why they do go to places like Afghanistan. And in fact the pay hierarchy, I guess, could actually even reflect skills. That's not to say that those lower in the hierarchy are somehow less worthy human beings, but that the better structural conditions in which the human resource is developed in richer countries may be reflected in that respect, too.
But when those on higher salaries start spending their money in Kabul, that's when the problems really begin. Because that just about crushes ordinary local Afghans' prospects for a decent livelihood in Kabul. Remarkable.
Ironically, one feature of the pay hierarchy could actually suggest that Afghan PMC staff may earn too much - as what they get may be more than what a poor lad joining the ANA can earn. But, well, that's a question of which way we're looking at it, to a degree. It might be that the ANA soldiers are not earning enough.
Disclaimer: this appears to be my second post in a row lobbying for ANA interests - I should make it clear that I don't regard them as a salvation army of sorts. It's just one of those basic institutions, hence it has my attention.

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