Watan Group

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Watan Group (translates as Nation Group) is a company based in Afghanistan that provides telecommunications, logistics and security services. It is owned by the Popal brothers who are believed to be cousins of Afghan President, Hamid Karzai.[1] They are from the powerful Popalzai sub-tribe, the same group that the Founding Father of Afghanistan, Ahmad Shah Durrani, and all of Afghanistan's former leaders belonged to. The Popalzais are traditionally the influential and elite group of Afghanistan, and are also a powerful group in neighboring Pakistan, particularly in Balochistan. In addition, many Popalzai members are in the United States, United Kingdom, European Union, Australia and United Arab Emirate (UAE).

The New York Times reported that according to Western officials, the largest shareholder in the company is Quayum Karzai, the brother of Afghan President,[2] but he stated after the report was published, that he has no financial interest in the company.[3] Watan Group is a partner of China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), which in December 2011 received Afghanistan's first big contract for oil field exploration and development. The three oil fields estimated to contain 87 million barrels of oil. [4] [5]

Their website states that they have seven subsidiaries: AMP Trading, Ehsaan Construction, Navia Design, Sino-Afghan Steel, Watan Telecom, Watan Risk Management and Watan Oil & Gas.[6] Watan Risk Management's clientele includes: USAID-funded Delouite, Checchi, Jhpiego, State University of New York (SUNY), American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) and other projects under the British and American militaries.

Watan Risk Management[edit]

Watan Risk Management (WRM) was established in 2005 by the Popal brothers and a former member of the Special Boat Service[7] and is described as a "private military arm".[1] In 2007, their armoury of Kalashnikovs was seized by the police despite their documentation being in order, the company believed that the raid was orchestrated by competitors in the Ministry of Interior to seize parts of their business.[7] A major part of their business is protecting convoys of trucks carrying supplies for the American Army between Kabul and Kandahar. An article in 2009, published in The Nation accused the company of paying the Taliban so that their convoys are not attacked. An Afghan official commented that around 10% of the $360 million contract may be paid to the Taliban to protect the convoys. They control the highway between Kabul and Kandahar which all trucking companies must use to transport goods away from Kabul. They control the road because they have a pact with a local militia leader, Commander Ruhullah, who is thought to charge $1,500 for one truck to travel to Kandahar, a distance of 300 kilometers.[1]

In response to the article published in The Nation and that was also published in other publications, including The Guardian,[8] the chairman of the group Ahmad Rateb Popal wrote a letter disputing the accuracy of the report. He stated that they have not received any business as a result of being related to Hamid Karzai and that they do not pay anybody to prevent convoys being attacked (in fact 50 guards die each month on average). He also suggested that the success of the companies meant that competitors where jealous and therefore told The Nation's reporter facts that were untrue.[9] Afghan MP Nur-ul-haq Olomi told CBC News that it was unlikely that a security company could function without bribing insurgents saying that if companies did not pay "the convoys were burned and that's it." Michael Semple, an expert on the Taliban, also said that it was likely WRM pay to travel safely along stretches of highway.[10]

WRM had been hired to protect the Canadians involved in building the Dahla Dam near Kandahar. According to The Toronto Star in February 2010, a standoff occurred between employees of WRM and Canadian security officials which led to the Canadians who were providing oversight over the Afghan security forces to flee the country.[11]

In May 2010, WRM were banned from operating on one of the highway between Kabul and Kandahar after a guard working for the company shot and killed a civilian. The company was ordered to pay compensation to the family of the civilian by the Afghan interior ministry.[12] The ban came into effect on May 14 but was overturned within two weeks after 1000 trucks were backlogged on the highway.[2]

In December 2010, US Army officials proposed banning Watan Risk Management from all US government work. Popals and Ruhullah separately challenged the actions. The Army decided not to debar Watan, opting instead for an administrative agreement that says the company may not bid on any convoy security contracts paid for with U.S. tax dollars for the next three years. However, the ban does not affect the other companies owned by the Popals, which include oil, gas, steel, construction and telecom businesses, according to the terms of the agreement signed in early August. Furthermore, in the summer of 2011, in a stunning reversal of course, Army officials inexplicably stopped the debarment proceedings and settled with Watan Risk Management and Commander Ruhullah. [13] [14]

Watan Telecom[edit]

Watan Telecom is a consortium of Al Houbi Telecom of Saudi Arabia and two North American companies, Cellular One and GlobeCom. In 2005 it acquired a licence for $30 million to become a mobile telecoms service provider in Afghanistan, the licence will last until 2020, when it can be renewed for another ten years.[15]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c How the US army protects its trucks – by paying the Taliban Aram Roston The Nation, Friday 11 November 2009
  2. ^ a b Filkins, Dexter (6 June 2010). "Convoy Guards in Afghanistan Face an Inquiry". New York Times. Retrieved 6 July 2010. 
  3. ^ "Corrections". The New York Times. 10 August 2010. 
  4. ^ http://news.yahoo.com/afghanistan-clears-oil-deal-chinas-cnpc-181955411.html
  5. ^ http://president.gov.af/en/news/5821
  6. ^ Watan Group
  7. ^ a b Crime-buster in an Armani suit takes on private armies of Kabul The Times October 31, 2007 - Note the company name is misspelt as "Witan"
  8. ^ Roston, Aram (2009-11-13). "How the US army protects its trucks – by paying the Taliban". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2010-05-27. 
  9. ^ RATEB POPAL, AHMAD (16 December 2009). "Letters By Our Readers". The Nation. Retrieved 21 December 2009. 
  10. ^ "Taliban protection payoffs denied by contractor". CBC News. 27 April 2010. Retrieved 6 July 2010. 
  11. ^ Potter, Mitch (9 June 2010). "Security standoff stalls Canadian dam project in Kandahar". The Toronto Star. Retrieved 6 July 2010. 
  12. ^ Afghanistan bars security firms Associated Press May 9, 2010 archived version
  13. ^ http://www.rawa.org/temp/runews/2011/09/15/us-officials-to-face-questions-about-decision-not-to-ban-afghan-company-accused-of-corruption.phtml
  14. ^ "Most Popular E-mail Newsletter". USA Today. 14 September 2011. 
  15. ^ Investcom, Watan Win Afghanistan Mobile Telecom Licenses Nic Fildes Cellular News 15 September 2005

External links[edit]