As hundreds of delegates from across Afghanistan arrive in Kabul for a three-day meeting to discuss the prospects for peace, experts are warning of major flaws and risks in the government’s draft peace plan.
Making peace with the Taliban will be the main issue for discussion at the Consultative Peace Jirga (assembly) but no insurgent representative has been invited. About 1,500 delegates, handpicked by the government, will assemble under a large German-donated tent in Kabul on 2-4 June to endorse President Hamid Karzai’s plans for a much-desired reconciliation with the armed opposition.
Karzai says he needs advice from delegates on how to curb the Taliban insurgency. Many donors and the UN have endorsed Karzai’s overtures of peace with the Taliban, who were toppled by a US-led military intervention in late 2001.
The Karzai government has already drafted and shared with donors the Afghan Peace and Reintegration Programme (APRP), which is expected to be debated at the Jirga.
What drives the insurgency?
Afghan and US officials say most of the rank-and-file insurgents are fighting primarily for economic reasons and an attractive reintegration package will wean them off the conflict.
The APRP stipulates rewards and privileges for those insurgents who are willing to renounce violence and submit to the Karzai government.
Physical security; amnesty for their previous felonies; grievance settlements; humanitarian and development aid; employment and vocational training are part of the APRP package for low-level insurgents. Senior insurgents will be entitled for relocation outside the country.
“Unemployment and poverty make it more likely for some people to fight but they are not fundamental factors of the insurgency,” Matt Waldman, a fellow at Harvard University’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, told IRIN.
He said the insurgency was driven by three domestic factors: a predatory political system that has excluded some ethnic groups; abuse of power by government officials; and a perception that the international forces are overly aggressive. The Taliban are also allegedly backed by elements in the Pakistani military and intelligence establishments, he said.
“Without addressing these fundamental issues reintegration will not work,” he warned.
Aid for ex-combatants
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Insurgents who sign up for the reintegration programme will undergo a verification process (registration, bio-metrics, weapons management, immediate care and support) and some will go through “de-radicalization” sessions.
Humanitarian and development assistance will be offered to help their reintegration into communities, according to the APRP.
“The financial costs of reintegration will be substantial and be dependent – in large part – upon donor financial support for an extended period,” states the APRP.
A new Reintegration Trust Fund (RTF), to be jointly administered by the UN Development Programme and the Ministry of Finance, has received pledges of more than US$160 million from donors such as Australia, UK, Spain, Japan and Germany.
Officials estimate the RTF will disburse more than $1.5 billion in the next few years.
“It will be a threat-based aid system rather than needs-based,” said Ashley Jackson, head of Oxfam policy and advocacy, adding that using humanitarian aid for political and strategic reasons was unsavory and could increase the risks to aid workers.
Oxfam is also worried about the planned merging of existing development programmes such as the National Solidarity Programme (NSP) – a community-based development process, which involves local councils and NGOs – with the APRP.
The government plans to use the NSP to channel reintegration funds in volatile areas.
However, the insurgents, already accused of widespread attacks on aid workers, have warned they will not tolerate reintegration projects and their implementers.
The Afghanistan NGO Safety Office, which recorded 172 security incidents involving NGO workers in 2009, has warned its members to avoid “engaging in civil-military coordination activities” because doing so could put them at greater risks.
In statements, the Taliban leadership council, which has no identifiable location, rejects peace talks with the Karzai government while foreign forces are in the country.
The Taliban are taking heart from opinion polls in NATO member countries that suggest public disapproval of the war in Afghanistan and growing demands for NATO troop withdrawals. Taliban fighters may stick with a potentially winning insurgency than join a losing government, experts say.
“With money, amnesty, power-sharing or more fighting in the short term, the US-led coalition wants to achieve quick fixes and quit,” said Khalil Roman, an Afghan expert, adding that the current peace talks are more foreign-induced than Afghan-driven.
Buying off the Taliban with rewards and financial incentives could paradoxically expand the conflict as some people could be enticed to join the insurgents in the hope they will be rewarded either by the government or by the Taliban.
Photo: Fardin Waezi/UNAMA
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“It could create perverse incentive for communities to produce combatants to be registered and then reintegrated,” said Oxfam’s Jackson.
Reintegration projects will be initially implemented in the seven provinces of Kandahar, Helmand, Badghis, Nangarhar, Kunduz, Baghlan and Herat provinces where the insurgents are believed to be more active.
Oxfam, however, says this would exacerbate geographic inequities in aid distribution as the relatively peaceful but needy provinces will not be eligible for reintegration aid projects.
“Amnesty will be granted to ex-combatant commanders and foot soldiers, vetted by security institutions and communities, where local grievances can be resolved and where ex-combatants will live in accordance with the laws and Constitution of Afghanistan, renounce violence, and have no current or future ties to Al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups,” states the APRP.
Senior Taliban leaders on a UN Security Council blacklist will have their names cleared if and when they side with the government, according to the APRP. As a confidence-building gesture, five Taliban officials were removed from the list in January.
Human rights organizations, however, criticize a blanket amnesty for Taliban fighters and say no viable peace can be achieved without justice.
“The worsening human rights situation in Afghanistan has deep-rooted connections to bad governance, the existence of the culture of impunity in Afghanistan, absence of the accountability for the past and continuous human rights violations,” Claudio Cordone, secretary-general of the UK-based Amnesty International, told IRIN.
To achieve peace, corruption and abuse of power by state officials must be stamped out, development should improve and criminals should be held accountable, he said.
While three previous peace meetings, the 2005 Peace and Reconciliation Commission, the 2003-2006 Afghanistan New Beginnings Programme and the ongoing Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups Programme, have largely failed to restore peace and end armed violence in the country, the new APRP will need drastic amendments before it can fulfil Afghans’ overwhelming desire for peace, some experts say.
“We must know the price for peace,” said Roman. “We cannot and must not sacrifice everything to bribe the Taliban for a temporary truce.”