Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Political Landscape

Kabul Conference (2): How to spend three quarters of a billion dollars

Kate Clark 6 min

AAN has seen and studied the – not yet public – Afghan government’s plan to reintegrate Taleban who lay down their arms. We also took a look at an earlier draft (see an earlier blog) and have been following the process since well before the London conference. Now comes the moment, at the Kabul Conference, when the foreigners will be asked to support – and fund – the Afghan Peace and Reintegration Plan – to the tune of three quarters of a billion dollars. Kate Clark, AAN’s senior analyst, has been wading through the 80 page document to bring you her first impressions: that it is impossible to envisage this plan being actually implemented, but very easy to see how the money will get spent.

This plan has a lot of pillars – two sets alone on the first page of the Executive Summary – along with a plethora of objectives, initiatives, funding lines, oversight and funding mechanisms, co-ordinating bodies and implementers. Multiple layers of government are involved: twelve Ministries; governors, supported by new technical committees, provincial reintegration committees; district governors; a new High Peace Council and a Secretariat. Community bodies will be set up where they do not exist and there is room for NGOs and civil society groups to be part of the process, mainly by bidding for projects.

It is all so mesmerising that one almost misses the one mention of a discretionary budget line of $50 million for the President. Meanwhile, the sprinkling of references to women, victims, minority groups and civil society look added on. There are statements which are blatantly untrue, such as that the Plan was developed, “on the basis of the recommendations of the…Consultative Peace Jirga” (it was clearly developed well before the peace jirga) and plenty of pious wishes like, “The outcome and recommendations of the Consultative Peace Jirga reaffirmed that the goal is the same for all Afghans: to build a better future for ourselves and our children” (which surely is true the world over).

The Plan asserts that it is Afghan-owned, despite it being entirely foreign-funded and despite the fact that the British and parts of ISAF have had a strong hand in its formation (British tax-payers in particular might be keen to monitor its progress).

Getting to the end of this 80 page project document is a feat in itself. The language is at times opaque to the point where I wondered if others more used to project proposal jargon understood it any better: a diplomat, the head of an NGO agency with two decades’ experience and a former political officer – also found it dense. Nevertheless, this is an attempt at unpicking the core of what the Afghan government is proposing to its international donors on how to reintegrate Taleban.

In the first stage (Social Outreach, Confidence-Building and Negotiation) provincial and district governors lead the outreach to individuals and communities that want to reintegrate. They facilitate confidence building. Strategic communications convince people that, the “Afghan government is doing its best to bring lasting peace and stability to Afghanistan.” There are negotiations, conflict resolution and forgiveness (afwa)(1) “between the Government, communities, victims and ex-combatants, as necessary.”

Once there are Taleban to reintegrate – now known as “reintegrees,” – the next stage can begin (Demobilisation): “Those who join the peace process will be demobilised through a social and political process that will begin with an initial assessment, vetting and weapons management and registration.” Immediate humanitarian assistance may be given and detainees released.

Stage Three (Consolidation of Peace) consists of needs assessment and a “menu of conflict recovery options” available to assist “communities, districts and provinces” (the emphasis is not on the individual reintegree). This will include (although not for everyone): improving access to basic services, literacy and civic education – including for women – and possibly using madrassas; study visits to Turkey, Egypt or Malaysia; vocational training(*) with apprenticeships and study stipends, Islamic Education (actually de-radicalisation, but the blander name presents no opportunity for anyone to argue that the aim might be to make anyone less zealous), training and employment in a new Public Works Corps(**) and Agriculture Corps, the later carrying out watershed management, irrigation, fence construction, reforestation and dealing with soil erosion; integration into the Afghan Security Forces and “community recovery programmes”.

How many watershed management trainers are there in the target provinces – Helmand, Baghlan, Khost, Nangarhar, Kandahar, Badghis, Kunduz and Herat – one wonders.

The authors of the Plan assert that the program is political, but its solutions to the insurgency are overwhelmingly economic – to do with jobs, training, etc. If the insurgency was mainly about jobs, this approach might be useful, but in that case, the already enormous outpourings of aid should have had their effect. And as aid often fuels conflict in Afghanistan (see Andrew Wilder’s research here), preparing to spend even more vast amounts of money may actually be a highly dangerous path to take.

If, on the other hand, the insurgency has strong political roots – to do with who has power, who is marginalised, to do with grievances with local and national government, as well as foreign forces – then this plan looks to be entirely on the wrong track. Research by both AAN (see here and here) and others (see Antonio Guistozzi’s edited book, Decoding the New Taliban: Insights from the Afghan Field Chischester/New York: Hurst/Columbia University Press and this report), including interviews with Taleban and Taleban supporters, indicate that abuses of power, such as land-grabs by the locally powerful, arbitrary arrests and torture by police and NDS, political marginalisation and corruption – and having foreign forces who search houses, kill civilians and wrongly detain people – are all powerful drivers of the insurgency. Yet in this plan, Taleban wanting to come in from the cold will have to deal with the very people who may be most problematic for them – governors, district governors and “locally respected figures” – and their security will be in the hands of forces who may also be part of the problem.(***)

The one political issue in this plan is conflict resolution and there is a nod to the fact that, although shuras should be able to sort out most grievances between Taleban and their victims/communities, grievances between the Taleban and the government may need independent mediators. Even so, the impression strongly given is that most grievances are local and apolitical and that the solution is forgiveness (or relocation). There is no suggestion that government officials might be called to account for abuses of power.

Earlier drafts of this Plan were more explicit about these political issues. At London, the contribution of the Afghan government to fuelling the insurgency was brought up much more honestly and self-critically. This included references to ‘threats’ like ‘local bullies, using their weapons or their influential governmental positions […] igniting public hatred, creating distance between the people and the government, and preventing the implementation of law and order’. It also mentioned civilian casualties and ‘warrantless’ house searches by NATO/ISAF troops as a major grievance – which are not mentioned in the new plan. ISAF has been given a very neutral supporting role.

Comparing different stages of the document, it looks like what was difficult for the Afghan state to implement – ie a change in its behaviour – has been dropped from the Plan, while all that is easy and beneficial – spending – has been left intact. If peace is about making compromises, the government of Afghanistan envisages making precious few, while enjoying many new ways of spending money.

Can the Plan even be implemented? It envisages a hugely complex, wide-ranging set of initiatives, an awful lot of money and a great deal of co-ordination. All of this happening in a war zone (remember the high hopes and long disappointments of the “government in a box” in Marjah) and by a state which has huge problems with officials pocketing money and what even ISAF officials have called the economic mafia which controls parts of the state. Will a government which can’t even manage to pay all its teachers across the country be able to set up and run all this? The authors of the plan admit that, “the programme will be particularly challenging because it will be initiated in the absence of a national peace agreement.”

Earlier grand attempts at demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration have not fared well, but foreign backers have proved all too ready to declare them successful, despite highly critical assessments. The international track record is not good on having the intelligence, information or interest to really monitor where its money goes – and yet this all looks crucial if the Plan is to have the slightest chance of even small success.


(1) This term can also mean ‘amnesty’.

(*) Just to give you a flavour of how language, in this case management-speak is used to add weight to some of the more fantastical suggestions, the private sector, we are told, will take time to provide jobs in insecure areas, but “MoLSAMD will continue to build its capacity to conduct local private-sector market serveys and to develop market-driven vocational training, especially at the district level. MoLSAMD, as well as private training entities and NGOs will be eligible to bid for provincial and national vocational training projects that contribute to sustained long-term peace and reintegration as identified by the provincial and district peace and reintegration committees. ”

Meanwhile, (**) the Public Works Corps will be a, “public-private partnership that supports the National Transport Strategy. MoPW is developing a corporate model of delivery whereby it delivers performance-based program management, policy and regulation and contracting and the private sector will deliver programmes.”

(***) Oh and for any of our fellow geeks who likes to keep an eye out for new types of state security forces, a new kid (with a new acronym) makes his first publicish appearance on the block – the Ministry of Interior’s Public Protection Police, known as MoI-PPP for short) will support district, village-level stability and security. It will be “American funded” and it is not a “militia”.