Afghan diplomat Naveed Noormal challenged American billionaire Erik Prince’s on his proposal to privatize the Afghan war during Aljazeera’s Head to Head program.
Prince is the founder and former CEO of Blackwater, a private security contractor company infamous for repeatedly violating human rights in Iraq and killing civilians. They have also operated in Afghanistan. Blackwater is now called Academi. Prince is now leading the Hong Kong-based security and logistics company called Frontier Services Group.
Noormal is First Secretary at the Embassy of Afghanistan in London. He has previously worked as Policy Coordinator at the Office of Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Affairs as well as Desk Officer at the Regional Cooperation Directorate of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan. He is a Fulbright Scholar.
As an audience member in the Head to Head show, Noormal asked Prince:
“Afghanistan being in war since 2001 and fighting twenty international groups – since 2014, the Afghan National Security Forces have been doing this by themselves. So how do you justify that you will get a contract and go do the war in Afghanistan given that you are making money of this business and you may never want to conclude the business there?”
And before giving the microphone away, he addressed the earlier comments Prince had made about Afghan elections and the sustainability of government depending on foreign missionaries.
Noormal said “And one point, do us a favour and have a bold line between missionaries of death, democracy and it is totally up to the people of Afghanistan to decide who is their next president. Thank you.”
Being the only Afghan who spoke, host Medhi Hasan asked to clarify “Are you Afghan yourself?”
“Yes, ” Noormal firmly said.
“And you believe Afghans don’t want….” Hasan continued.
Noormal did not let Hasan finish his statement and said, “No, never. That is definitely never” to the proposal of allowing the war in Afghanistan to be privatized.
Prince answered part of Noormal’s question. He said the out of the $62 billion the US spends in Afghanistan a year, only $5 billion is to support Afghan forced and the rest of that money is to support US presence in Afghanistan. Prince assured that the financial support is going to go away and the Afghan security forces would not last more than six weeks.
Prince went on to add “there has to be some kind of capability to keep the Afghan security forces upright with the ability to function so Afghanistan can actually have a free election.”
Prince did not talk about how much profit his securities company would make if the Afghan war is privatized, the meaning behind Noormal’s question.
The Afghan Herald did the following interview with Noormal after the show aired on Aljezeera.
AH: Mr. Noormal, were you satisfied with Erik Prince’s answer to your question?
“To answer that I would say, let the audience decide if that was a satisfactory answer to them. This a matter that affects every single Afghan and it is important for all of us to be satisfied with the answer. I personally did not find a justification in his answer to satisfy my concern. Privatizing the war in Afghanistan to missionaries of death is not in the best interest of the Afghan people.”
AH: Why does Afghanistan’s firmly reject the plan that Erik Prince is proposing to the Trump administration?
Noormal: The plan is not only rejected by Afghanistan, but also many international partners including some key figures in the US. Former Secretary James Mattis said “When Americans put their nation’s credibility on the line, privatizing is probably not a wise idea”. To address your question, I will respond to it with three points.
First, the core objective of US forces and NATO in Afghanistan is to fight terrorism, help Afghanistan to build a sovereign and democratic state, and avoid further destruction. Afghans are tired of war and seeking ways possible to bring about an inclusive peace. Now that Afghanistan is going through an important phase of peace process and that the opportunity is shaping to have a politically negotiated settlement, a plan to privatize the war in Afghanistan is undermining the peace efforts and will deter the parties to respond to the peace negotiations.
Second, Afghanistan has a capable security forces, which has been fighting more than 20 international terrorist groups. Our security forces are in the front line of fight against terrorism and have the potential to save the country, therefore, a plan to privatize war will also undermine the long time investment in our able security forces.
Third, privatization of war means a business of destruction. There is no justification to convince the people and government of Afghanistan that a private company, making money out of this business, will ever want to put a full stop to this war. Let’s also remember the examples of privatization in Iraq, and the grievances it has brought to the people of that country.
AH: Do you think Afghanistan’s position would change if a new president is elected? Erik Prince hinted that things would be different if President Ghani is no longer in office.
Noormal: This a matter of national interest for Afghanistan. My calculation is that whoever takes over the office will have to walk along people’s demand and for the national interests of the country. The current government under President Ghani has clearly, on many occasions, rejected the plan and any President in the future will also pursue the will of people and that of national interests.
Many key politicians including former President Karzai and running candidates for the upcoming elections have rejected the plan. Let’s remind ourselves that the plan to privatize war in Afghanistan is not for the interest of anyone including our international partners. The people of Afghanistan has sacrificed for many years to get to the stage they are now, and do not want their efforts to go in vain.
AH: What do you think of Prince’s comment that if President Ghani does not change his security plan, ‘he would end up like Najib’?
Noormal: Afghanistan has an elected government, with strong political, military, and administrative institutions. Time has changed, and so the dynamics. “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. Such comments are not only insult to the people and government of Afghanistan and to the sacrifices we have made, but also to the efforts of our international partners and allies that has supported us in the past 18 years. Afghanistan is not alone in this fight, we have strong support and ties with our international partners and the world has watched us going though this journey of peace and democracy. Our shared goal at the international platform is to defeating transnational terrorism. Therefore, instead of prolonging the war and destruction, let’s hold accountable any state that sponsors terror in Afghanistan or anywhere in the world.
AH Why does Prince’s proposed plan matter if the Afghan government strongly opposes it just like senior generals and advisors to the Pentagon?
Noormal: Afghans are the victim of war. Any initiative with regard to peace or fighting against terrorism must lie in the hands of Afghans. Nations do have national interests, sometimes they differ from other countries and sometimes they are compatible. In the contemporary globalized world, countries need each other to survive, as do people. Therefore, it is always good to talk about issues than leaving them untouched. Afghanistan also, as a responsible government, is cautious and aware of the situation. Hence it’s for all of us not to allow any negligent proposal or plan about Afghanistan without our voices being heard. We deserve to be present and engaged in any decisions that relates to the future of our nation and our country.
You can watch the full Head to Head interview here.
Naveed Noormal is First Secretary at the Embassy of Afghanistan in London. He has previously worked as Policy Coordinator at the Office of Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Affairs as well as Desk Officer at the Regional Cooperation Directorate of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan. He tweets @NaveedNoomal