Geopolitics

The High Price And False Hopes Of Luring Taliban To The Other Side

A joint project by NATO and the Karzai government has so far convinced nearly 2,000 Taliban to lay down their arms. But in Afghanistan’s Laghman province, some of those “converts” say they’re already considering going back.

District elders in Zabul village discuss reintegrating local Taliban
District elders in Zabul village discuss reintegrating local Taliban
Frederic Bobin

MIHTARLAM -- Muhammad Anwar is deeply upset. "They gave us false hopes," he says. Anwar is a former chief in the Taliban hierarchy. In Mirhtarlam, the administrative center of the eastern province of Laghman, he talks about his feelings as a repentant former Taliban who agreed, a few weeks ago, to join the government.

"The government promised us a house and a job, but we still have nothing," he says. "I'm sorry I left the insurrection. If nothing changes, many of us might go back to the Taliban."

The civil servants in the room are not happy to hear Muhammad's speech. They are employed by the provincial branch of the High Peace Council (HPC), an organization created at the end of 2010 by Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The aim of the HPC is to establish a dialogue with the rebels. The Council agreed to organize this meeting for Le Monde to prove that "reintegrating" former Talibans into civilian life works.

"What they (the former Taliban) are saying is not true," says Abdul Sami, one of the people in charge of the HPC in Laghman. "We never promised them a house or a job. We told them we'd try, but it was never a guaranteed right."

Who then promised the moon to these Taliban converts? It may have been the Afghan secret services, who are the first to get in touch with rebels who intend to leave the Taliban. Either way, making offers of this kind is a dangerous game to play. As Muhammad Anwar's comments suggest, unfulfilled promises can lead quickly to frustration and tensions.

NATO and the Karzai government are working together on the reintegration program, which they designed based on the assumption that "the rebels decided to take arms because of local socio-economic complaints, not because they believed in a true ideology," according to Philip Jones, a British general who heads the "Reintegration Cell" of NATO's International Security Assistance Force. The coalition, therefore, tries to entice Taliban associates with new social and economic prospects.

The project's operating budget is roughly $140 million, but there are limits to what it can offer Taliban participants. "If we were to give all former rebels everything they want, the rest of the local population would join the Taliban in order to eventually quit and be given the same things as the people who left before them. Imagine how crazy things would get," says Hadji Muhammad Omer, one of the HPC's provincial leaders.

Since the creation of the HPC, 1,852 rebels out of an estimated 30,000 have accepted to quit the Taliban nationwide. Although the local administration claims not to have promised them anything, the ex-rebels still receive a temporary monthly allowance during three months. But what happens after that? Muhammad Anwar talks about "false promises' and about going back over to the Talibans, but will he?

Anwar left the Taliban after refusing to set fire to a school. "The people who tell us to set fire to schools are foreign rebels, Pakistanis and Arabs," he says. Since betraying the Taliban, Muhammad has been living in fear, afraid of possible retaliation. "My life's in danger. My family had to leave our village to find shelter here in Mihtarlam."

He would like his "reintegration" to advance more quickly, but he has to deal with a slow and suspicious local administration. Muhammad's friend, a young man named Niamatullah, offers a nice summary of the situation: "Right now we are stuck between the Taliban and the government."

For Anwar, life was "much simpler when we were in the mountains, free and with our guns."

Read the original article in French

Photo - isafmedia

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