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Ghazni braces for fallout of Polish departure

Rahmat Alizada
Dozens of Ghazni security personnel have lost their jobs after the departure of Polish military forces from the area, leaving them vulnerable to both economic hardship and assassination attempts by the Taliban.
16.09.2014  |  Ghazni

Early this summer, the Polish Army began reducing its NATO contingent of 1,600 troops in Afghanistan to a total of 500 in the country by the end of this year. Charged with defending Ghazni city and outlying areas for over six years, the Polish mission in the province came to an end in May. The soldiers left behind thousands of unemployed Afghans, piles of scrapped equipment, and an atmosphere of existential uncertainty ominous for Afghans fearing NATO's planned withdrawal from the country by the year's end. 

The remnants of the Polish military base in Ghazni city are for sale by the ton at a local scrapyard. Photos: Rahmat Alizada 

Mustafa Balkhi, 23, was recently laid off from his job with the Ghazni municipality support team for foreign forces, which earned him $300 per month. That work opportunity disappeared with the departure of the Polish military units stationed in Ghazni, leaving local residents who worked in administrative and security support jobs out of work and vulnerable to retribution by insurgents.  “I cannot go anywhere out of fear from the Taliban,” Balkhi says.

Thousands of local residents are in a similar situation, says Muhammad Ali Ahmadi, the deputy governor of Ghazni province. According to Ahmadi, the Polish military base in Ghazni city itself employed some 500 local laborers, all of whom have been laid off.

The Polish forces annually paid the local government $20 million for development projects, Ahmadi continued. Their abrupt withdrawal has left several key projects unfinished as the financial aid dried up.

The energy industry has also suffered. Gasoline sales dropped 40 percent following the withdrawal of Polish troops. Petroleum sellers were accustomed to selling “thousands of liters a day” to Polish contractors, and their departure leaves a large hole in a market, said Hadji Badruddin Khairkhah, chairman of the Petroleum Businessmen Union in Ghazni province.

The economic future of Ghazni--and, indeed, the entire country--hinges on the Bilateral Security Agreement between the United States and Afghanistan, which lays out a security training scheme beyond NATO’s scheduled withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of this year. President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign the agreement, and his successor remains undetermined due to ongoing political deadlock following the contested presidential election. Without the BSA, business will collapse in this country, Khairkhah said. “The foreign forces employed thousands of Afghans and once they withdraw, all of them will be out of jobs,” he added.

Meanwhile, one of the few places in Ghazni where business is still bustling is at a small market that sprouted up in front of the now-obsolete Polish military base, where buyers have access to a variety of non-combat equipment of varying technological grades. The items can be purchased at a discount from local businessmen who purchased the items directly from the Polish forces at a wholesale discount.

Though NATO planned to sell the equipment it leaves behind to Afghan security forces, the absence of the BSA makes such transactions impossible. “Right before the Polish forces withdrew, they broke all the equipment they used to use and sold it to local businessmen," said Ahmadi. Originally, the Polish forces were supposed to hand all their equipment to Afghan forces, but due to lack of coordination between Polish forces and the local government in Ghazni, all the equipment was scrapped and sold off as junk.


Local buyers climb atop scrapped military equipment in Ghazni city.

Fragments of household electronics like refrigerators, washing machines, and air conditioners are on offer here, said Alam Khan Katawazi, a local shopkeeper. There are also trucks, vehicle engines, and electrical generators. Smaller items like computers, electronics, and CDs are also available. “We sell the items based on weight,” said Katawazi. “We bought each ton for $380 and sell for $500.”

For security reasons, all of the electronic items purchased from Polish forces has been broken or magnetized. “None of it is functioning,” said Katawazi. “They broke everything they sold us. Some of the electronic items are completely new.”

But Abdul Kareem, a 55-year-old mechanic, said some of the items were salvageable. "We cannot find the stuff we get here in the local Afghan market. The prices are really good too," he said. “After I buy the things here, I double the price and resell them.”

Death threats

Aside from financial insecurity, the Afghans who formerly worked on the Polish base are facing death threats by the Taliban. Many of those who had long-term contracts have left Ghazni for other provinces. According to Alowi, the Taliban know the identities of a majority of the workers, who are no longer safe in their own city.

Sayeed Noor Agha Alowi, 32, worked for five years as a food server for the Polish soldiers. “Once the Polish forces withdrew from Ghazni, the Taliban threatened me several times. I had to leave Ghazni province." 

Sayeed Abdul Khaleq Arifi, 53, worked as a cook for the Ghazni-based foreign troops for five years. While he was still employed, men claiming to be Taliban operatives telephoned him several times and threatened to kill him, he said. “I lost my job and I cannot do anything out of fear of the Taliban," he said. "Now I have no choice but leave Ghazni, fearing that the Taliban will kill me."