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Afghan reintegration scheme in the spotlight

KUNDUZ, 4 June 2013 (IRIN) - A process of voluntary disarmament and reintegration of ex-combatants, the Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program (APRP), has been under way since 2010, but in the absence of a wider settlement, how successful can it hope to be?

APRP aims to reintegrate low level fighters, while simultaneously reconciling top commanders with the government through political dialogue, according to the US Institute for Peace.

In return for renouncing violence and accepting the Afghan constitution, ex-fighters are promised reintegration into their communities, assistance with education and vocational training, and a degree of protection and security.

The formal reintegration scheme is implemented by APRP and its High Peace Council (appointed by President Hamid Karzai to negotiate with elements of the Taliban). NGOs and international organizations support APRP through things like programme monitoring, capacity development, study/analysis, and project implementation.

According to the UN Development Programme (UNDP), as of May, 6,840 fighters have been reintegrated under the scheme.

The APRP guide says the programme “is anchored in the reality that most Afghan insurgents are fighting in or near their communities, and only a minority is ideologically motivated”.

According to UNDP, the scheme uses three approaches: outreach/negotiations, reintegration/demobilization and community recovery.

All enrolled “reintegrees” are given various types of assistance - for example a transitional assistance package provides US$120 per month for 3-6 months. Most also work on community projects in their districts and villages.

Training and employment opportunities vary, depending on the specific programmes being implemented in the area, and personal interest. In Chardara (Kunduz Province), for example, an area known for carpet-making and agriculture, anti-government fighters and their family members learn to weave, and study agriculture and mechanics. Each family member is given 4,900 Afghanis ($90) a month for attending the project.

Scepticism

Some observers are sceptical about the scheme and whether the provision of material support can really change mindsets.

According to researchers Andrew Garfield and Alicia Boyd working for the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI), the main motivating factor for anti-government fighters taking up arms against the government is not money but opposition to the “Western presence, values, and influence over the Afghan government, as well as the perceived severe shortcomings of the Afghan government itself.”

“Reintegration offers money or other material incentives, and this is not the main - or sole - motive of many insurgents. I had the feeling that the `ten-dollar Talib' was a psychological warfare invention,” Thomas Ruttig from the Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN) told IRIN.

There is also a question mark over who is joining the scheme.

Several “reintegrees” told IRIN that former-fighters who joined APRP for money were not considered “real Taliban”.

“It seems that the largest figures of `reintegrees’ were generated in peripheral provinces, and often, if not in their majority, the fighters were not Taliban, but Hezbis or members of other freelance illegal armed groups, also including people linked to some of the organizers,” said Ruttig.

Project woes

The process of delivering projects on the ground has been a major challenge, according to an AAN report. Only $63 million of the more than $176 million set aside for the programme has been spent so far.

Long delays in project implementation and lack of an accountability strategy in vocational projects were just several problems mentioned.

Waheedullah Rahmani, spokesperson of the High Peace Council in Kunduz, said at the provincial level, directorates struggle to implement projects, which results in donors rejecting extension requests.

The principle of the reintegration initiative, common elsewhere in the world, is to allow ex-fighters to create a new, peaceful basis for earning a livelihood in their communities.

Rahmani said the High Peace Council has been able to provide some employment opportunities from the projects for reintegrees. “Dashti Archi District provided work for 272 fighters who joined the peace process. And last year at least 1,000 men worked in agricultural projects. Some of these people then merged into the Afghan Local Police forces.”

However, the AAN report found that few were able to find lasting sources of income after the training, and two thirds of the small business start-ups failed.

Threats

Several men said that before joining the reintegration process, the only option had been to continue fighting. “Now I understand this is my country and I should help my people,” said a 23-year-old ex-fighter from Baghlan, who preferred anonymity.

“But I am not happy with the Afghan government because when I first joined the peace process they arrested and threatened me. Why did they treat me like this? I came for peace, not for battle.”

Complaints regarding security from low-level fighters are widespread. In eastern Nangarhar Province, one former anti-government fighter was forced to move his family from the village to the city after constant death threats.

Commander Behru from Kunduz received threats not only from the Taliban, but also government-backed militia known as “arbakai”.

“I receive calls from my close friends; the other night [a] mullah called me. He said to me `Behru, we were very close friends, and then you went and became an infidel.' I know we are Muslims, but now they see us as infidels, and they will not let me live.”

Debatable impact

APRP is due to continue until 2015 and currently around 841 fighters are negotiating to enter the programme, with reports also that several anti-government groups are expressing interest.

A recent study on public awareness of the scheme by UNDP suggested most Afghans had heard of the process.

As to the impact of the scheme, the jury is still out.

“The reintegration programme might have weakened the insurgency here and there in some provinces, but apparently nowhere to an extent that it really made a large difference,” said Ruttig.

UNDP has identified things that can be improved in the scheme, for example the use of more experienced staff in project oversight and implementation teams, and better coordination between partner organizations and stakeholders.

But the fundamental challenge for any such reintegration scheme is the ongoing conflict.

The Garfield and Boyd study found the anti-government groups deeply committed to their fight, including a strong commitment to carry on fighting the current regime.

bm/jj/cb

Theme (s): Conflict, Security,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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