Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

War and Peace

Graft and Remilitarisation: A look back at efforts to disarm, demobilise, reconcile and reintegrate

Kate Clark 26 min

Even before the Eid truce suddenly made a peace process in Afghanistan imaginable, international civilian and military circles were wondering what they could do to support one. The government, the High Peace Council (HPC) and donors are also currently negotiating future funding for the HPC. It seems a good moment, says AAN’s Kate Clark, to look back at Afghanistan’s previous experiences with ‘funding peace’, especially at the four programmes aimed at DDR and reintegration. All were costly failures. If there is to be a genuine peace process, understanding what went wrong with these programmes, which drove corruption and remilitarisation, is important.

The author started writing this dispatch well before the Afghan government, Taleban and US military ceasefires over Eid and the resulting mass fraternisation made it possible to imagine what peace in Afghanistan might look like (read AAN analysis here and some reactions from Afghans here). Afghanistan’s international backers were thinking what they could do to support a peace process. Also, the High Peace Council Joint Secretariat, headed by Muhammad Ekram Khpulwak, who is also a senior adviser to President Ghani, had been sounding out donors for a new reintegration project. The donors proved to be sceptical about this, AAN was told, but have been negotiating new funding for the High Peace Council with more limited aims (more on which later).

If there is traction on a peace process, or if even the possibility that one can be talked up, one can envisage future calls by Kabul for funding to ‘persuade’ fighters to stop fighting or reward ‘their’ communities, for setting up new institutions, or just to keep the Kabul government going on its ‘road to peace’. However if there is to be a genuine peace process, another ill-thought out reintegration programme, or any other premature funding to promote peace could be poison. Particularly as Afghanistan heads into elections, any programme seeking fresh funding should be transparent and accountable.

Trying to encourage peace with aid money has proved counterproductive. Fishstein and Wilder in their in-depth research on deploying aid in Afghanistan in a bid to improve security and stabilisation concluded it had the opposite affect:

The most destabilizing aspect of the war-aid economy was in fueling massive corruption that served to delegitimize the government. Other destabilizing effects included: generating competition and conflict over aid resources, often along factional, tribal or ethnic lines; creating perverse incentives to maintain an insecure environment, as was the case with security contractors who were reported to be “creating a problem to solve a problem”; fueling conflicts between communities over locations of roads and the hiring of laborers; and, causing resentment by reinforcing existing inequalities and further strengthening dominant groups, often allied with political leaders and regional strongmen, at the expense of others.

The four main post-2001 reintegration schemes in Afghanistan are other examples of how programmes aimed at encouraging peace have done the opposite. They have also helped consolidate the political positions of powerful players­ and proved to be vehicles for corruption.

The first two – Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration or DDR, (2003–05) and Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups Programme or DIAG (2005 and ongoing) – dealt with pro-government armed groups. The second two – Program-e Tahkim-e Sulh or PTS, Strengthening Peace Programme (2005-10) and the Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Programme or APRP (2010-16) – were aimed at insurgents.

Repeating Failure: the four post-2001 attempts at DDR

  1. Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (2003–05)

The DDR programme, launched in 2003, dealt with the armed men of what were called the Afghanistan Military Forces, or AMF. This term was given to those who had been fighting the Taleban. They included men from the various factions of the Northern Alliance as well as others belonging to militias which had mobilised only after 9/11. The AMF came under Ministry of Defence command – which had itself been captured by the most powerful Northern Alliance faction, Shura-ye Nazar (a network within Jamiat-e Islami) when it took Kabul in November 2001. The Ministry of Defence gave the AMF military designations in a notional eight corps structure. (1) DDR of the AMF was supposed to operate in parallel with the creation of a new Afghan National Army (ANA) free of factional and ethnic bias. As the programme got going, a new verb, ‘to DDR’ swiftly entered both English and Dari (dee-dee-ar kardan).

The UNDP’s Afghanistan New Beginnings Programme (ANBP), set up to support Security Sector Reform in general, ran DDR on behalf of the government. The ANBP had two overarching goals:

1) to break the historic patriarchal chain of command existing between the former commanders and their men; and 2) to provide the demobilised personnel with the ability to become economically independent—the ultimate objective being to reinforce the authority of the government. (ANBP website – no longer accessible – quoted by Derksen’s 2015 report, “The Politics of Disarmament and Rearmament in Afghanistan, page 8)

 The Ministry of Defence selected units and individuals for DDR and these were then vetted by a government official, five village elders and a member of the ANBP. The reintegrees handed in at least one working weapon and received $200 each, but as this was generally pocketed by their commanders, handouts of rice, flour, cooking oil and clothes were given instead. By July 2005, when the programme ended, 63,380 men had been demobilised and 55,054 received reintegration benefits. 106,510 weapons has also decommissioned, Hartzell noted in a 2004 paper for the United State Institute for Peace: 38,099 light weapons and 12,248 heavy munitions were handed over to the Afghan Ministry of Defense and 56,163 weapons were destroyed.

There were numerous problems with this scheme. First, the numbers of men in the AMF had been grossly inflated, reported Harzell:

Initial estimates of the number of combatants eligible to participate in the program ranged from 50,000 to 250,000. Because no comprehensive needs assessment was conducted to inform the program’s design, ANBP officials had to rely on figures from the Afghan Ministry of Defense. A compromise figure of 100,000 participants was initially settled on. The ANBP later lowered this figure to 50,000, recognizing that AMF commanders had overstated the number of combatants in order to collect salaries from the ministry. The lower number also accounted for the spontaneous demobilization of many militia members after the Taliban’s defeat. (2)

 Many of the fighters had had mobilised temporarily in 2001 and then gone home – all by themselves. Derksen describes, for example, how the 54th Division in Kunduz was empty until DDR began when 982 men turned up to be DDR-ed. She quotes a former senior DDR official, “‘There was no army… What were we disarming? A group of Afghan farmers who had been called to arms and since the fighting had gone back to farming. There was no certainty on who we were disarming.’” Hartzell also quotes a report looking at the central region which found that 80 percent of participants were not legitimate candidates “as they had not served as full-time fighters for the required eight months; rather, they were members of self-defense groups selected to participate in the process by commanders who sought to retain control of seasoned [ie experienced] troops.”

As to weapons, most observers were sceptical of the type and quantity handed in. Reporters, including this author, saw some very old, antique and broken weapons among those collected. Derksen’s conclusion was that, “Fearful of rivals exploiting their disarmament, commanders generally kept as many weapons as they could, facilitated by the fact that there was no way to verify that they were handing in all their weapons and no mechanism to force them to do so.”

Secondly, for fighters and commanders who actually existed there were various paths through DDR. Those who were DDR-ed tended to be the weaker commanders. “Many second‐tier commanders who were reintegrated under DDR,” wrote Waldman, “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.” Derksen wrote that such commanders

…often kept their networks, which instead of being disbanded were simply pushed underground. In the southwest, they either joined the Taliban or remobilized as anti-insurgent militia. In the northeast, they often pursued criminal activities until they remobilized later, when the insurgency spread there after 2007.

 By contrast, commanders with good links to either the Ministries of Defence or Interior (also controlled by Shura-ye Nazar at this time) or the US military usually managed to maintain their groups of armed men, recycling them directly into other armed formations, both state and non-state. Many commanders found their way into the new police force, taking their men with them. This reinforced the paramilitary, rather than civilian policing nature of the ANP. It also resulted in factional command structures, loyalties and patterns of behaviour surviving. That has tended to dissipate over the years, although as Giustozzi would write almost a decade later, “Efforts directed at restructuring and training the police achieved mixed success, and even by 2011, the uniformed police ‘was still more like a fragmented coterie of militias than either a paramilitary police or a civilian police force.’”

Although the ANA was set up from scratch with the aim of it being free of ethnic discrimination and factional bias, this was only partially true, said Hartzell in 2004.

The politicization of the disarmament and demobilization processes carried over into the formation of the ANA. One source reports that “although U.S. plans for the creation of a new national army allowed for only 10 to 20 percent of all recruits to come from the ranks of the DDR-ed militias, the Ministry of Defense managed to allocate that reduced quota almost entirely to Shura-i Nazar’s militias.” Although international stakeholders have pushed to construct a more ethnically diverse army, discrepancies that fuel factionalism and deepen patronage networks continue to exist. (3)

In the south and east, meanwhile, US special forces and the CIA were trying to hunt down ‘Taleban remnants’. This maintained the market for the local militia allies who had mobilised in 2001 to fight the Taleban. Typically, these were the same groups as had been disarmed or fled across the border to Pakistan when the Taleban captured the south in 1994 and 1995. Commanders managing to ally themselves with US forces were able both to protect their forces from DDR and consolidate their positions vis-à-vis rivals.

The US’s enemy at this time was a fantasy. There were no ‘Taleban remnants’, in terms of fighting forces offering resistance, after the final battle of the intervention in March 2002 in the Shahikot mountains of Paktia. Taleban foot soldiers had overwhelmingly gone home after the collapse of their government – spontaneously demobilising – while many mid and higher ranking figures reached out to those they knew in the new administration to seek amnesties, using normal Afghan mechanisms which allow the vanquished to acknowledge the victors and live in peace. (4) Few were allowed to take this path. Instead, both former Taleban and Afghans completely unconnected to the Taleban, including those who had actively opposed the regime, were targeted in the hunt for ‘Taleban remnants’.

The US’s new Afghan allies were able to exploit its desire to capture members of the Taleban and al Qaeda by presenting their personal or factional enemies as terrorists, getting them detained and their homes raided. The US practice of giving bounties for intelligence only fuelled the targeting of innocent people. This is all very well documented, as is the way this persecution was a factor eventually sparking actual rebellion (see footnote 5 for detail and sources). Then, as a real insurgency began to grow, at first slowly and patchily, and from 2005/2006 more seriously, US and other international forces only became more reliant on these highly problematic local allies. Such reliance was reinforced by the fact that the ANA had mobilised only slowly.

Meanwhile, from 2003 onwards, ISAF began to expand from Kabul into the provinces. It established Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) whose mission, to ‘stabilise’ Afghanistan, was interpreted, with only one exception – the UK PRT in Mazar-e Sharif – as carrying out aid work. (6) Those Afghan civilians who had welcomed ISAF deployments on the assumption that foreign soldiers would protect them from abusive local militias (for examples of such abuse, see this 2003 Human Rights Watch report)  could only watch as the foreign soldiers routinely allied themselves with the local strongmen. In research conducted in 2004, the author found PRT commanders saying ‘green on green’ conflict, by which they meant non-Taleban Afghan versus Afghan violence, was not their business. Such violence could include threats to civilians, inter-factional violence and refusals to DDR. Moreover, because of concerns with ‘force protection’, PRTs usually turned to local strongmen to guard their bases. ISAF’s expansion gave Afghan commanders an opportunity to ‘re-hat’ their men as guards protecting the new international bases and supply chains, strengthening “the historic patriarchal chain of command existing between the former commanders and their men.”

All of this meant that, during the period of the DDR programme, armed groups did not disappear; they morphed, turning up in state forces and US-allied militias and as guards for ISAF, as criminals and Taleban insurgents. The fundamental problem with DDR was that it was undertaken in an environment where factional leaders and commanders had already taken power. The manner of the American-led intervention in 2001 – air strikes, plus arming and funding local armed men to fight the Taleban – meant it was they who took territory when the Taleban fell. Commanders and factional leaders became the first governors, ministers and NDS, police and army officers in the post-Taleban era. The first cabinet, for example, included just a handful of members who were neither military nor linked to one of the fighting factions (they included Hamed Karzai, who had been a civilian member of the mujahedin in the 1980s, as chair and Simar Samar as vice chair of the Interim Authority and Suhaila Seddiqi at Health). DDR’s first goal of “breaking the historic patriarchal chain of command existing between the former commanders and their men,” was always going to be difficult when most of those in power were there because they were leaders of armed men. As to DDR’s second goal “reinforc[ing] the authority of the government,” the government had already been co-opted by factions and commanders.

The achievements of DDR were limited, then. At best, it can be seen as part of a wider move to contain the leaders and commanders of armed factions and groups. This did not mean that chains of command were broken, or that leaders could not­ mobilise armed men swiftly if needed, or that civilians were protected from violent abuse by armed men, or that the state had a monopoly on violence. It meant that, from 2001 onwards, those on the government side who could have mediated their rivalries through violence – as they had before – have generally not done so. (7)

  1. Disarmament of Illegal Armed Groups (DIAG) (2005 and ongoing)

The DIAG programme, launched in 2005, was supposed to clear up those militias left over after DDR. Although it was also supported by the UNDP’s Afghan New Beginnings Programme, Derksen argued that it was more ‘Afghan owned’ than DDR had been, as it was driven by what she calls the “Westernized faction of the Karzai administration, which included former communication minister Mohammad Masum Stanekzai and Minister of Interior Ali Ahmad Jalali.” Stapleton, however, in a report for AAN said the government in general stalled “wherever possible” and also that international actors were reluctant “to take DIAG seriously.” This time, the motivation to demobilise and disarm would not be individual benefits, but development projects for communities in districts free of Illegal Armed Groups.

However, DIAG coincided both with ISAF’s further expansion into the south of Afghanistan and a grave flaring up of the insurgency there. In 2009, there was also the three-year ‘surge’ when President Obama ordered an increase in US troops to more than 100,000. There was a concomitant proliferation of international military bases and posts and a sharpened need for local allies. Derksen has described the “frequent collaboration” by the international military with “unofficial militias targeted for disbandment” by DIAG and indeed, “a push for their legalization.” The armed groups survived again.

Some were re-branded as new quasi-state forces, of which there were a bewildering variety during this period. Most of these were supposed to be ‘community defence forces’, ie they were supposed to be recruited from the local community and it was supposed to both want this defence force and be involved in vetting and oversight. However, a little analysis often showed the capture of such forces by local strongmen wanting to legalise their armed men; that pattern was stronger in some forces than others. These quasi-state or local forces included:

  • 9000-strong Afghan National Auxiliary Police in 2006, a Karzai enterprise, funded by NATO to combat the insurgency, described by Wilder as “a mechanism for the international community to pay militia salaries that currently the government had to pay through the governors.”
  • 10-000 strong Community Defense Initiative in 2009, a government funded project designed supposedly to protect the polling stations during the presidential elections of that year, units were described by Goodhand and Hakimi as “vehicles for strengthening patronage relationships ahead of the polls.”
  • 1100-strong Afghan Public Protection Program (AP3) in 2009, a joint project between US Special Forces and the Ministry of Interior in Wardak in which half of the forces were reported as co-opted by local strongmen, with accusations of harassment and abuses against villagers.
  • Local Defense Initiative, initiated by US special forces, despite hostility from Karzai, in various insurgent-plagued districts to improve on AP3 and reportedly with better results, in terms of community engagement and being less abusive
  • 1100-strong Critical Infrastructure Program (CIP), an ISAF Regional Command North initiative (German and US, with American funding), dismantled by Karzai when he found out about it, the aim was to stop existing militias extorting food, fuel and money from citizens by paying them. UNAMA in 2012 said CIP “may have unintentionally contributed to expand and solidify the power of armed groups in the north and northeastern regions… as in some areas, it “reinforced and strengthened existing armed group structures, bringing members together, providing training and increasing numbers under an association with Pro-Government Forces. After disbandment, most members went to either the ALP or ANP. UNAMA reports the same happening with two other similar regional international military funded militia projects, the Intermediate Security for Critical Infrastructure (ISCI) in Helmand and the Community-Based Security Solutions (CBSS) in Kunar, Nangarhar and Nuristan provinces.
  • Afghan Local Police (ALP), begun in 2010 as a Ministry of Interior/US military project, this was a nationwide, semi-formalised, paramilitary defence force. Evidence of local strongmen incorporating their militias into some ALP units and of their capture by factional forces is multiple (see for example here and here and fine-grained analysis by AAN at the district level about Khas Uruzgan in Uruzgan here and here, Dand-e Shahabuddin in Baghlan province and Chahrdara, Khanabad and Kunduz city in Kunduz province). Since 2012, the ALP has been increasingly institutionalised, with, eventually, better Ministry of Interior command and control, and vetting for ‘strongman influence’ over units. For a latest review of the force, which now officially numbers around 29,000, see here.

For more detail on all these groups, including original sources, see “Backgrounder: Literature Review of Local, Community or Sub-State Forces in Afghanistan” by Erica Gaston and Kate Clark at pages 5-9.

Another path for armed groups to be regularised and escape DIAG was through their rebranding as Private Security Companies (PSCs). These were hired to guard international military bases and supply convoys, and as can be imagined, demand for them was huge, especially during the years of the surge. (8) A US House of Representatives investigation into the guarding of convoys supplying US bases published in 2011 described:

A typical convoy of 300 supply trucks going from Kabul to Kandahar, for example, will travel with 400 to 500 guards in dozens of trucks armed with heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs).

The investigation found that security for the US supply chain was “principally provided by warlords” with contracts going to “warlords, strongmen, commanders, and militia leaders who compete with the Afghan central government for power and authority.” This was not quite true – at least the line between state and non-state was by no means so clear-cut. Many of the PSCs were ultimately owned by relatives or close allies of the most powerful figures in government, including the president, vice president, former defence minister and speaker of the Senate. (9)

The need to guard the US military supply chain ensured foreign dollars reached the pockets of those who could mobilise armed men as guards. It also facilitated a huge protection racket. Trucks could only reach US bases by paying for safe passage. The report describes those bribed as “local warlords” while, at the same time, reporting: “The largest private security provider for HNT [the name of the contract] trucks complained that it had to pay $1,000 to $10,000 in monthly bribes to nearly every Afghan governor, police chief, and local military unit whose territory the company passed. Taleban were also paid off.

The PSCs were eventually replaced, from 2011/2012 onwards, by guards from a state-owned enterprise within the Ministry of Interior, the Afghan Public Protection Force (APPF).

In trying to assess DIAG and how many illegal armed groups it had demobilised, Stapleton, in a report for AAN, quoted figures from UNDP’s Afghan New Beginning’s Programme at its conclusion in 2011. It reported that of the 1496 illegal armed groups which survived DDR, DIAG had demobilised 759. However, she points out that an illegal armed group could number just five people and most of the groups on the demobilised list were indeed this small. “Low-hanging fruit” was the phrase used to describe such ‘DIAG-ed’ groups at the time. In other words, the official numbers were meaningless.

Stapleton described DIAG as essentially a “propaganda exercise.” Like DDR, she said, DIAG had “very limited outcomes.” She believed the fundamental problem was that Afghanistan’s international backers were “virtually in a state of denial over the key question of who actually wields authority on the ground.” This, in turn, she said “obscures how planned-for outcomes can and are subverted by such actors and their networks.” (10)

  1. Program-e Tahkim-e Sulh (Strengthening Peace Programme), PTS (2005-10) 

This programme was set up by President Karzai in 2005 and supported by the US military. Karzai was worried about ‘marginalised Pashtuns’ in the face of the still strong Northern Alliance factions and the growing insurgency, then overwhelmingly in Pashtun areas. The US, mainly concerned with the much worse violence in the other war it was fighting in Iraq, hoped PTS would dampen the growing insurgency in Afghanistan.

Those registering in the PTS were supposed to disarm and accept the constitution in exchange for a guarantee they would not be arrested. (11) There were few who took this path. In 2008, when the three-year old PTS claimed to have reconciled more than 8,000 insurgents (the figure included released prisoners), Zabihullah Mujadeddi, who ran the programme on behalf of his father, mujahedin leader Sebghatullah Mujaddedi) could only show this author the names of a dozen ‘serious’ commanders. Even they mostly 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 of those who went through PTS had not recently been involved in fighting and so 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 PTS staff, helping boost their numbers. Derksen concluded that the essential problem with the programme was that “neither side was genuinely interested in reconciliation.”

PTS was closed down in 2010, according to an internal document (reported on here), on the insistence of donor governments for being “morally and financially bankrupt.”

  1. Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Programme (APRP) (2010-16)

The idea for the fourth programme attempting to deal with armed men since 2001 emerged ahead of the ‘National Consultative Peace Jirga’ called by President Karzai in 2010 (see AAN reporting here, here and here). He urged disaffected Afghans – “upset brothers” as he called them – to leave the Taleban and come over to the government side. He also urged donors to fund the mechanisms to do this: a new institution, the High Peace Council, and a new programme, the APRP.

The HPC had seventy members, who were mainly former jihadi commanders, Provincial Peace Committees and a Joint Secretariat. Former president and Jamiat leader, Burhanuddin Rabbani served as the HPC chair (after his assassination in September 2011, he was replaced by his son, Salahuddin). The HPC’s Joint Secretariat was led by Masum Stanekzai. The current chair is former mujahedin leader and former vice president Karim Khalili while, as mentioned before, Khpelwak is director of the Joint Secretariat. (For an organogram useful for the HPC at least until 2015, see here).

The APRP developed into a fully-fledged programme aimed at outreach, mediation between reconciled insurgents and their communities, development projects for communities and support to those insurgents who had been vetted and demobilised, including 120 dollars for the first three months, training and religious mentoring. APRP was administered by the Joint Secretariat and supported by UNDP whose tasks included managing the Peace and Reintegration Trust Fund, thereby ensuring, says UNDP “that donor funds are used in the most efficient and effective manner.” The UNDP website, like the HPC, still wrongly lists the APRP as a current programme. It lists its accomplishments as including:

  • 10,404 former combatants have renounced violence under this programme, with 10,286 receiving financial assistance to reintegrate into their communities.
  • The APRP became a National Priority Programme
  • The HPC established “important” contacts with the insurgency’s leadership
  • “[P]ublic awareness and support for the peace process”and “regional support and opportunities for initiating dialogue” increased
  • Provincial peace councils forming “a nationwide structure for peace activities at the local level” were established
  • 250,000 women’s signatures calling for peace were collected (12)

UNDP says that APRP received 178 million dollars, which (13) on a crude calculation, works out at an eye-watering 18,000 dollars per reintegree. In the absence of any actual peace process, a programme to reintegrate reconciled Taleban had almost no chance of success. Taleban fighters have shown strong ties of loyalty to their movement, obedience to the leadership and a reluctance to surrender to the government. Even for those who might want to come over, the APRP showed itself unable to protect them from their former comrades. The numbers of actual Taleban encouraged to switch their allegiance by the APRP have been small. Most of those ‘reintegrated’ have been from the north and west and many were not even combatants, let alone Taleban. Reports from the provinces have frequently revealed empty Provincial Peace Councils (PPC) offices. Like PTS, men connected to HPC members and staff have been ‘reintegrated’ to push up the numbers. Derksen wrote:

Accordingly, many participants seem to have not belonged to the insurgency, or at best have operated only in its periphery. This situation is explained by a number of factors: the Taliban are not interested, program officials and international stakeholders need to show numbers of participants, no consensus has been reached over who was eligible for the program, the vetting process is not transparent, and some APRP officials seem to have included people connected to them who are not in the insurgency rather than Taliban.

UNDP has made a damning assessment of the programme it supported, according to reporting by the Special Inspector for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) in his first quarterly report for 2018. SIGAR reported UNDP describing the APRP as “overly ambitious, assumption-laden and structurally unsustainable, lacking accountability, and producing no satisfactory results.”

Many, including this author, saw the High Peace Council and the APRP as actually created to fulfil quite a different mission – and in this it was successful. It brought in a lot of money from donors – who wanted to be seen to be doing something on ‘peace’ – but actually funded Karzai’s patronage through the appointment of the HPC members. Derksen also concluded that the resources of both the APRP and the PTS, “seem to have been mostly captured by elites in the provinces and in the capital.”

Recent support to the High Peace Council

Working out recent HPC activities and donor support is tricky. The UNDP website still speaks of the APRP as a current programme and lists donor support up till 2018. However, the APRP has ended; various people AAN spoke to were unsure about when this happened, but after checking paperwork, one said it had been the end of 2016. Since then, the HPC has been limping along, with funding still coming via UNDP and covering operational costs, including of the Provincial Peace Councils (PCPs) and some activities such as workshops and conferences, but no longer reintegration.

The HPC was officially re-vamped in February 2016 (see AAN analysis here, with a new chair, Pir Seyyed Ahmad Gailani and new deputies and a reduction in members from 70 to 50. After the pir’s death in January 2017, the leadership of the HPC, in June 2017, fell to Karim Khalili. Meanwhile, as of April 2017, the Joint Secretariat has been run by presidential advisor, Ekram Khpelwak. Despite Khalili’s very public role as chairman, which means that any shortcomings in the HPC are liable to reflect back on him, many of the HPC’s activities are conducted by Khpelwak’s Joint Secretariat. It also does most of the day-to-day management of funds.

AAN was told funding of the HPC has become much more limited, although the UNDP figures do not show a particular falling off. (14) Only three donors are now left: South Korea, the United Kingdom and the US. SIGAR, reporting in April, spoke of the US State Department providing $3.9 million to the UNDP “to support reconciliation (including the activities of the High Peace Council” in what it described as an “initial pilot” from September to December 2017, “extended to March 2018.” An attempt by the HPC to reform its (very expensive) Provincial Peace Councils (PPCs) was launched in September 2017 (it reduced the overall number of members and increased female representation). According to SIGAR, UNAMA assessed the reforms and was not impressed:

UNAMA found that the effectiveness of the reformed PPCs is still highly variable. The capacity of PPC members does not appear to have improved measurably under the new membership structure, and in some provinces, the overall quality of the PPC membership appeared to have been reduced as a result of the reforms…While PPCs reported some achievements in outreach, reconciliation, conflict resolution, and violence reduction, UNAMA concluded that these successes were generally isolated and lacking in strategic direction

Negotiations between the HPC, government and donors are ongoing as they try to put together a new project to support the HPC, again funded via UNDP. SIGAR said that UNDP had reported that the new project “would be informed by lessons” from APRP and would be “more modest and practical” with three outputs: supporting the HPC, including strengthening the Provincial Peace Committees; strengthening “peacebuilding actors and networks to mediate conflict” and supporting “collaborative research, knowledge-sharing, and communications for peace- building.” The draft proposal was for $30 over three years, but that and details on programming could still change. 

Donors are certainly much more sceptical than they were. Lisa Curtis, who is in charge of the Afghanistan file at the US National Security Council said in June, for example, that the US prioritised “the pursuit of a peace process” and was following “multiple lines of effort,” but they did not “intend to re-create earlier efforts that tended to be unsuccessful. These included the APRP which serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of graft.”

The main impetus to keep funding the HPC seems to be that it exists and now is not the time to ‘de-fund’ it, even though, were a ‘peace institution’ to be set up from scratch now, it would look very different. AAN was told that discrepancies between the donors and the HPC on its objectives, sub-national presence and oversight mechanisms remain. The negotiations continue.


DDR and its successor DIAG were supposed to create a monopoly of violence for the new Afghan state and break the link between faction-related commanders and men. Yet militia forces were re-cycled into new iterations. State forces, especially the ANP, were factionalised and there was often a strengthening, not a breaking, of bonds between commanders and militiamen. This should not have come as a surprise. By 2001, Afghanistan had been at war for a quarter of a century and regime change had brought factional forces and commanders to power. They were not going to be dislodged easily. Moreover, attempts at demobilisation were made while other elements of the international intervention were supporting and mobilising non-state or quasi-state armed groups. PTS and APRP, both aimed at bringing Taleban from the cold, have had a negligible effect on the insurgency and, like DDR and DIAG, turned out to be vehicles for graft. They have made it look as though the Kabul government has seen ‘peace’ as just another means to make money and that donors were comfortable with that.

The comparison between the four DDR and counter-narcotics programmes in Afghanistan seems apt; ‘eradication’ in both cases has been manipulated by more powerful players to target weaker rivals and consolidate their market share. Donors have continued to fund programmes despite their clear failures and malign consequences because ‘peace’, like an ‘opium-free’ Afghanistan, would be good.

Looking at these four programmes now is pertinent because prospects for something shifting in the Afghan war look somewhat more hopeful following the Eid ceasefire than they have done for many years. Not everyone is happy at the possibility of negotiations – see the mixed reaction to the ceasefire garnered by AAN, but Ghani has repeated his call to the Taleban to talk and there is also international support for a peace effort (the US National Security Council’s Liz Curtis’ speech on 7 June was more openly ‘pro-peace’ than this author can remember an American official making).

The question remains, though, of what could – or should – happen when and if there is a genuine peace process and the fighting stops. Afghanistan will be faced with a situation not seen before. In 2001, Taleban demobilised by themselves, as did many of the temporary fighters on the Northern Alliance side. However, this was in the face of a clear victory. The Taleban had suffered overwhelming defeat, not just military but psychological, when Afghans did not come to the regime’s aid. Foot soldiers went home. Seniors among the defeated Taleban reached out to those holding power to surrender and get security guarantees.

A negotiated settlement with the Taleban now would produce a very different sort of peace; one could envisage large numbers of armed men on both sides, neither of which had been defeated. The failures of the four DDR programmes attempted since 2001 are a warning of the dangers of funding without accountability and of funding programmes which claim one thing – that may be noble – but deliver something else.

Edited by Sari Kouvo

(1) The new Minister of Defence, Qasim Fahim, used his position to favour his own and allied commanders: Kabul and the northeast (Shura-ye Nazar’s heartland), wrote Derksen “saw an almost immediate proliferation of military units, with no less than 14 divisions and several smaller units in existence by the end of 2002.” As to generals, which in Afghanistan is a virtually unsackable, job-for-life position, out of a total of 100 appointed by Fahim in early 2002, reported Giustozzi, 90 belonged to Shura-ye Nazar.

(2) Compare Giustozzi’s figures in his paper, “State reconstruction and international engagement in Afghanistan”, 30 May – 1 June 2003, London School of Economics and Political Science and University of Bonn (see here). He wrote that, the AMF commanders claimed an overall tashkil of around 700,000 men, although “the actual number of ‘full-time’ soldiers is reckoned to be closer to 200,000 and possibly as small as 80,000. Another 50,000-75,000 (depending on the source) former combatants had already been incorporated into a newly established police force.” Notably, as of April 2002, Giustozzi writes, Defence Minister Fahim “still only had complete control command over the 18,000 or so troops of his own Shura-i Nezar faction.” Bearing in mind this was the dominant faction in the Northern Alliance, it says something about the likely numbers of actual fighters who may have needed demobilising.

(3) Hartzell found this initial bias in the ANA still present in 2004:

An analysis of data from an Afghan official in January 2010 finds that Pashtuns represented 42.6 percent of the army, Tajiks 40.98 percent, Hazaras 7.68 percent, Uzbeks 4.05 percent, and other minorities 4.68 percent, and concludes that while the presence of Pashtuns at all levels of the military corresponds to their proportion of the general population, Tajiks continue to dominate the officer and noncommissioned officer ranks. 

(4) For detail, see pages 9-14 in Kate Clark “Kafka in Cuba: The Afghan Experience in Guantánamo” (November 2016), published by AAN and Michael Semple, “Reconciliation in Afghanistan”, United States Institute for Peace, 2009. The most famous Taleban attempt to surrender was by Taleban leader Mullah Omar to Hamed Karzai. It is documented in a number of places, including Anand Gopal, “The Battle for Afghanistan: Militancy and Conflict in Kandahar”, New American Foundation, November 2010.

(5) In the AAN report “Kafka in Cuba” (see footnote 4), we gave the following examples of such detentions (sources in original):

  • In Kunar, the anti-Taleban, Salafist leader, Haji Rohullah Wakil, had been chosen to represent the province in a national gathering, the Emergency Loya Jirga, in June 2002. Two months later, in August 2002, he was detained and taken to Guantánamo. It seems a rival, keen to scoop up logging business and contracts for counter-narcotics work and the building of US bases, had told the US he was a terrorist. Rohullah Wakil’s detention was “widely seen as a tipping point in turning the province against the new government and the United States.”
  • In the south, van Bijlert reported, Uruzgan’s first post-Taleban governor, Jan Muhammad, a man with close, long-standing ties to the Karzai family, “used his relations with US Special Forces and his reputation as an effective Taliban hunter to target a wide range of tribal leaders and former Taleban officials, particularly from the Ghilzai and Panjpai tribes.”
  • In Kandahar, “entire tribes, like the Ishaqzai in Maiwand, a district west of Kandahar City… were systematically targeted and denounced as Taleban.” The tribes in Maiwand had indeed supported the Taleban when they first came to power in 1994, but “US forces were unable to recognize when those same tribes switched allegiances in 2001.” This was precisely what made Maiwand so lucrative in the eyes of the new US-allied governor, Gul Agha Shirzai, and his men: “There were weapons to be requisitioned, tribal elders to be shaken down, reward money to be collected – boundless profits to be made.”
  • In Paktia, a province where popular revolt had driven the Taleban from power, some al Qaeda fighters held out in the Shahikot mountains in Zurmat district. In March 2002, with some local Taleban support, they fought US forces. It might have seemed a black and white task to then work with local allies to find and detain the final Taleban and al Qaeda sympathisers in Zurmat. In reality, the US entered a minefield of duplicitous allies and old conflicts – Khalqi communists versus mujahedin and Harakat-e Enqelab versus Hezb-e Islami versus Jamiat-e Islami, as well as tribal feuds. Some Taleban were detained, but there were also members of the pre-Taleban, local, political leadership, opponents of the ‘Islamic Emirate’, ordinary folk, and two 14-year-old boys, Asadullah and Naqibullah, who were being kept and raped by a pro-American commander (he fell out of favour with his US allies and ended up in Bagram).

One of the main denouncers was the provincial police chief, Abdullah Mujahed, a Jamiat commander, US ally and, said people in Paktia, one of the main sources of crime in the province; he was himself eventually also sent to Guantánamo along with a number of his drivers, cooks, and guards. Policeman Nur Agha, described how he was detained and tortured on a tiny US base, spending “days… hanging from a prison ceiling.” In Zurmat, he said, “There was no one left standing in the end. It was as if the whole system just devoured everyone.”

(6) Insights are from unpublished research on PRTs: Clark, Malikyar and Rubin, “Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Afghanistan: Can They Help Rebuild the National State?’ (New York: Center on International Cooperation, New York University, 2005, unpublished). The British PRT in Mazar-e Sharif, which alone avoided aid work, interpreted the stabilisation mission as largely to do with improving security. It sought to reduce the power of commanders and strongmen and defusing conflict – the threat of inter-factional fighting was high in the region – and DDR. In this it cooperated closely with UNAMA.

(7) This was reinforced by a separate programme, the cantonment of heavy weapons, whose success did limit the scope of damage from any factional fighting.

(8) Numbers here are patchy, but Aikins gives some figures indicating the growth of PSCs: 3152 PSCs were registered as employed by the US Department of Defence in September 2007 and 3,689 were registered PSCs, December 2008. Employment of PSC guards rose by 400 per cent, from December 2008 to December 2010. (During 2006-11, US forces increased from 20,300 to almost 100,000). Matthieu Aikins, “Contracting the Commanders: Transition and the Political Economy of Afghanistan’s Private Security Industry,” New York: Center on International Cooperation, 2012, p7.

(9) Malyar Sadeq Azad, “Top Leaders Tied to Security Companies”, The Killid Group, 21 August 2010.

(10) Officials at DIAG, Stapleton wrote in 2013, told her the programme was no longer dealing with criminal groups, but only with armed insurgent groups.

(11) As Sari Kouvo and Patricia Gossman wrote in the AAN report, “Tell Us How This Ends: Transitional Justice and Prospects for Peace in Afghanistan”, 2013, the promise of amnesty was made in direct conflict with UN Security Council sanctions and US policy at that time. The offer had no legal basis and was inconsequential because the programme ending up dealing with foot soldiers and low-level commanders. Even so, Kouvo and Gossman argue, it can be seen as one of the many steps that laid the groundwork for the Amnesty Law (passed by parliament in 2007 and gazetted in 2008) which provided a blanket amnesty for past combatants and any current combatants if they “join the process of national reconciliation’ and ‘respect the Constitution and other laws’.” (art. 3(2))

(12) UNDP full list of APRP ‘accomplishments’, as reported on its website is:

  • APRP has become a National Priority Program with a robust structure and implementation capacity.
  • The HPC has established important contacts with the leadership of the insurgency. Members, including women, participated in a number of informal talks with Taliban representatives leading up to the first formal talks in July 2015. These efforts have increased public awareness and support for the peace process and widened understanding of how the insurgency operates, how it is supported and how to reach out to it.
  • Through regional and international events and forums, the HPC has tried to convince countries in the region that instability in Afghanistan poses a serious threat to the stability of the region as a whole. This has resulted in increased regional support and opportunities for initiating dialogue.
  • Provincial Peace Committees have been established to conduct local outreach, negotiation and reintegration in 33 provinces, forming a nationwide structure for peace activities at the local level.
  • 10,404 former combatants have so far renounced violence and joined the peace and reintegration program. Of these, 10,286 received financial assistance to reintegrate into their communities.
  • 146 small grant projects have been implemented (consisting mostly of small community infrastructure projects). These provided temporary employment to former combatants during reintegration, as well as benefitting over 154,000 local people.
  • 820 former insurgents and 1,058 members of communities where they were reintegrated in 8 provinces worked in road maintenance jobs provided by the Ministry of Public Works and funded by APRP.
  • 1,965 former insurgents and 3,058 members of communities where they were reintegrated in acquired marketable skills through APRP-funded vocational training programs.
  • 805 former insurgents and 2,867 members of communities where they were reintegrated worked on reforestation, irrigation and farming projects implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock and funded by APRP.
  • Women peace activists collected over 250,000 signatures from Afghan women for the “Women Call for Ceasefire and Peace” campaign in February 2015.

(13) The figures are strange. UNDP gives 178 million USD as the overall funding given to APRP (it lists donors as the UNDP, Germany, Japan, Korea, the US, Spain, Italy, Netherlands, Denmark and South Korea). However, the breakdown of funds from 2012 to 2018 (including the two years after the APRP had concluded) only add up to 114 million USD.

(14) UNDP gives the following breakdown of funding for APRP by year:

2018  $3,951,962
2017  $20,454,500
2017  $19,847,964
2016  $16,018,431
2015  $25,475,176
2014  $27,838,956
2013 $11,470,990










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