REPORTING FROM ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN -- The government of President Hamid Karzai moved on two fronts Thursday to put pressure on his Western allies, demanding the handover of a U.S. military detention center to Afghan authorities and ordering the shutdown of the Afghanistan operations of an international security firm.
The American-run detention center at Bagram airfield should be given over to Afghan control within a month, according to a statement from the presidential palace, which also called for all Afghan citizens held in coalition detention facilities to be turned over to Afghan officials.
The Bagram center was already slated to be turned over to Afghan authorities in early 2012, but Karzai’s demand appeared to be meant to underscore to a domestic audience that he will take aggressive steps to ensure Afghan sovereignty.
The statement said that the imprisonment of Afghan nationals without trial is a violation of the country’s constitution. Over the last year, NATO’s International Security Assistance Force has captured large numbers of insurgent field commanders, and many have been subjected to extensive interrogation without being formally charged.
Western officials have not disclosed the number of prisoners held at the Bagram facility; conditions there have been sharply criticized by human rights groups.
The Afghan government also took aim at private security contractors, which Karzai has long equated to a rogue army operating on Afghan soil.
The Interior Ministry said Thursday it had ordered the shuttering of Afghan operations of GardaWorld, an international security-consulting firm, after two Britons working for the company were arrested with what Afghan officials said was a stash of unregistered weapons.
The two British men, along with two Afghan colleagues, were detained Tuesday after dozens of assault rifles without serial numbers were found in their vehicle at a Kabul checkpoint, said Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqi. He said they were under investigation for illegal weapons transport.
Karzai has already set a March deadline for the shutdown of private foreign security firms in Afghanistan. That has stirred concern in the international community, which relies heavily on private contractors to provide security.
The Afghan government is creating its own force meant to replace the foreign firms, but many international organizations have said they would curtail operations in Afghanistan if they are not allowed to hire private contractors.
-- Laura King
Photo: Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaking during the last day of a four-day loya jirga, a meeting of over 2,000 Afghan tribal elders and leaders in Kabul on Nov. 19, 2011. Credit: Shah Marai / AFP/Getty Images.