Jobs, training, psychosocial counselling and block grants: A look at the Afghan government’s new ‘peace and reintegration’ plan to bring home the Taleban. By Kate Clark (with input from Thomas Ruttig)
Reading the draft of the Afghan government’s programme for peace and reintegration is a surreal experience, starting with the opening and the first sentence’s fighting-free description of events since the communist coup: ‘For the last thirty years, the Afghan people have suffered and sacrificed to achieve peace. We Afghans desire not only short term security, but a consolidated, sustainable peace.’
This is the government’s Afghan Peace and Reintegration Plan (APRP), formerly ‘Policy for National Reconciliation and Reintegration of Armed Opposition Groups’ as presented to the London Conference in January this year, its proposal of how to bring disaffected Afghans back from the Taleban, not yet released to the public, but seen by some news agencies (one example see here) and also AAN (see separately here). It has been taken to Washington by currently visiting President Hamed Karzai and if the blessing of Barack Obama is received will be brought back to present to Afghans at a ‘peace jirga’ (see blog ‘Peace Jirga goes to Washington’ here).
The plans are magnificent: complex, wide-ranging, community-centred, Afghan-owned, foreign funded and financially weighty. They are multi-sectoral, involving efforts across at least nine ministries, with new government agencies to be set up in Kabul and the provinces. They provide a range of possible scenarios to help former combatants, their communities and districts to come back into the fold: training in subjects from vehicle maintenance to watershed management, literacy classes, large-scale employment in newly created engineering and agriculture and conservation corps and incorporation into the Afghan security forces. De-radicalisation programmes will be provided. Psychosocial counselling (which is left #ff0000, but might, for all we know, include questions about parental relationships) will also be on offer.
So many things are assumed in this draft programme, it is difficult to know where to start. To succeed, it should have an effective, corruption-free, non-partisan administration, a ready supply of people able to train and counsel former combatants and happy to work in some of the most dangerous areas of the country without any meaningful government presence, a thriving economy and a relatively peaceful environment in which to work. I try to imagine a programme of this complexity and breadth being implemented in the southern counties of my own country, England and I struggle. It comes as a relief to find out on page 13 that the programme will not be rolled out in all districts at once. Initial focus, it says, will only be on Kandahar and Helmand, Herat and Baghdis, Nangrahar and Kunduz/Baghlan, although, with the help of the international community, the government will, ‘embrace emerging opportunities in any other province.’ And although, under ‘Key Principles’, it is stated that it ‘is a program for all Afghans’ and ‘should not favour a particular ethnic or tribal group’.
The APRP largely focuses on how to bring over low and mid-level Taleban through economic incentives. But without the far more serious and fundamental business of reconciliation, i.e. bringing senior leaders over, reintegrating foot-soldiers is just a side play. Yet reconciliation gets just one sketchy paragraph in the 17 page document:
At the strategic or political level efforts focus on the leadership of the insurgency. This is a complex and highly sensitive issue that needs a broad approach. The package for these levels may include: addressing the problem of sanctuaries, measures for outreach and removal from the UN sanction list, ensuring the severance of links with Al-Qaida, securing political accommodation, and potential exile to a third country.
The APRP restricts itself to dealing with only two possible reasons for taking up arms against the Afghan government and its foreign backers: economics and grievances, including by implication, with government officials. While this is still very superficial, it is an improvement on the analysis on which the previous official program for reconciling insurgents was based, the Strengthening Peace Programme (PTS). Zabihullah Mujadeddi, who ran this effort on behalf of his father Sebghatullah Mujaddedi, in an interview with the author in July 2008 described insurgents as terrorists who deserved nothing more than surrender. Any complaints about government corruption, he said, were just an excuse to fight.
At the same time, it falls back behind the analysis given submitted to the London conference. In that earlier draft, the contribution of the Afghan government to fuelling the insurgency had been brought up much more honestly and self-critically. This included ‘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 caused and ‘warrantless’ house searches by NATO/ISAF troops as a major grievance. That paper also differentiated much more clearly between ‘reconcilable’ and ‘irreconcilable’, ‘moderate’ and ‘extremist’ Taleban. Amongst the ‘moderates/reconcilables’ it counted some at ‘leadership and midlevel command positions’.
The APRP envisages that resolving grievances, ‘between ex-combatants, communities, victims’ groups and local government,’ will be carried out by (unspecified) local mechanisms or provincial or district governor-chaired shuras. There is an implication that abusive local government behaviour will be addressed (something which the international military may well have been pushing for). However, the Afghan government is very unwilling to police itself or punish or remove abusive individuals who are powerful or who are protected by the powerful. Grievances stirring up support for the insurgency are many and perpetrated by officials, many of them very senior indeed, security forces (including police and NDS), and powerful pro-government private figures. Complaints include: arbitrary detention and torture, land-grabs, looting and political marginalisation or persecution of individuals and communities on tribal or factional grounds. In other words, the grievances go much deeper than this plan suggests: if insurgents see the Afghan state as unjust, self-serving, venal and oppressive, why would they want to reintegrate?
After locally-negotiated settlements and grievance resolutions have taken place, there will be a ‘menu of options’ for communities, districts and provinces to select from for helping communities and ex-combatants to reintegrate:
• community security (Ministry of Interior/MoI);
• district and community led-reintegration projects (Ministry of Rural Development and Rehabilitation, Independent Directorate on Local Government)
• integration to the Afghan security forces (MoI, Ministry of Defence, National Directorate of Security)
• vocational and literacy training (Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs/MOLSA, Ministry of Education) – including farming, farm equipment maintenance, basic electrical work and plumbing
• de-radicalisation courses (Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs/MOHRA)
• transfer to Engineering and Construction and Agriculture Conservation Corps (Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Public Works, MOLSA).
Thousands of ex-combatants will be trained and employed in a newly established civil emergency response unit, a highway defence unit and an agricultural conservation corps will train program leaders in watershed management practices, soil conversation, tree biology, forest management, surveying, erosion control and fencing and create labour intensive programmes. Immediate humanitarian assistance may also be given.
All the options will not only be open for ‘upset brothers’; communities will also be able to, ‘appoint their sons and daughters’ to these programmes.
I counted ten ministries involved in the programme, but I may have lost track. There are also new bodies which need setting up, including:
• High Level Peace Council to set policy, with a handful of ministers, the speakers of the two houses, the head of the Ulema Council and a number of undefined influential elders ‘including women’ (probably appointed by the President although that is not explicitly stated)
• a Joint Secretariat to implement policy, managed by a CEO (minister-level) and staffed by senior advisors, supported by the UN and ISAF who will, ‘ensure international support behind the Afghan government’s lead.’
• sub-committees with Line Ministry representatives
• Provincial Peace and Reconciliation Committees to oversee political outreach and district initiatives.
• Provincial Technical Teams
• demobilisation centres
• legal team
• communications cell
The authors of this paper make it very clear that the program’s cost ‘will be substantial’ and it (i.e. its success) ‘will be dependent […] upon donor financial support for an extended period’. Funding for all this will go through a Trust Fund (set up at the London Conference in January already). Money can be released ‘[a]ccording to the legal framework [to be] set by the Ministry of Justice, set guidelines for reintegration and reconciliation, and fully developed activities and action plans’.
Will the plan get American and other international support? There is already US$140 million pledged. Over the last nine years, Afghanistan’s international backers have been far happier giving aid which supports technical programmes while staying well away from tackling any underlying political shortcomings. So this extraordinary proposal may well find favour.
It is difficult to imagine it finding any success.
Already, insurgent-affected areas cannot absorb the amount of aid which international actors would like to spend. This is already the case with the money channelled into these areas by the military and bilateral donors under the dubious mantra that aid wins hearts and minds. If money and projects could have brought peace, they would have already done so. Instead, the record – documented by Andrew Wilder (see a brief summary on what is forthcoming report says here) – shows that aid is frequently de-stabilising. Insecurity makes proper oversight impossible. Aid goes astray and into pockets – both foreign and Afghan. Patchy spending – where well-connected communities benefit while their neighbours do not – exacerbates the anger of the politically marginalised. The programme tries to get round this by saying help would be district-wide. However, Wilder’s description of the effects of aid disbursement should be a clear warning of the dangers:
The most destabilizing aspect of aid…is its role in fuelling corruption. And here, Western donor governments have been slow to acknowledge their contribution to this problem….Spending too much too quickly with too little oversight in insecure environments is a recipe for fuelling corruption, delegitimizing the Afghan government, and undermining the credibility of international actors…the obvious, effective, and quickest way to reduce corruption (is to) reduce funding, especially in the most insecure areas, to levels more in line with what Afghanistan can absorb.
The failures of earlier programmes similar to the proposed APRP make the current plans look even more hopelessly optimistic. The PTS (which supposedly reconciled Taleban) and DDR (Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration – a nationwide program), both fared badly.
In 2008, the three-year old PTS programme claimed to have reconciled over 8,000 insurgents (the figure included released prisoners), but when pressed about the quality of the reconcilees, the man in charge, Zabihullah Mujadeddi, could only show me the names of a dozen ‘serious’ commanders, although even most of these turned out to be actually minor figures. Michael Semple’s review of the records (‘Reconciliation in Afghanistan’, Washington, DC: United States Institute for Peace, 2009) revealed that the great majority had not recently been involved in conflict and their undertaking to lay down their arms was to all intents and purposes meaningless. In many cases, he says, it seemed that people signing up had simply been doing a favour to the PTS staff, to help them fill up their numbers. The PTS did not even manage to help former combatants financially or protect them from harassment by the security forces.
DDR which ran from 2003 to 2006 claimed to have disarmed and provided agricultural, vocational and business support to 60,000 former combatants. According to Matt Waldman in his recent AAN paper ‘Golden Surrender’ (see here), the programme has had
minimal lasting impact, was subverted by militia commanders or local strongmen, and many participants were not genuine ex‐combatants…Indeed, many second‐tier commanders who were reintegrated under DDR were deeply dissatisfied with the process and considering remobilisation. They not only lost income, but also their former authority, status, and public respect derived from the resistance.
Waldman is equally damning about the ongoing Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups programme (DIAG) which offers ongoing projects to communities, usually school or clinic construction, in exchange for facilitating the return of weapons and disbandment of armed groups. He says the projects which non‐existent, ineffective or ‘excruciatingly slow’ and claims of success highly inflated. Thousands of armed groups still exist.
These failures raise questions, not just about the capacity of the Afghan state and its international backers to run effective demobilisation programmes, but why the internationals keep funding them. They also raise questions about why Afghans fight. Offering economic incentives to come back into the pro-government fold misses the point that but economics is just one of the many reasons for taking up arms.
There are also many, many ways it seems to set up new bureaucracies and spend money.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020