The Afghan government is crafting a plan to offer jobs, vocational training and other economic incentives to tens of thousands of Taliban foot soldiers willing to switch sides after eight years of war.
Officials hope the multimillion-dollar initiative, which would reach out to 20,000 to 35,000 low- to mid-level Taliban insurgents, will succeed where past programs have failed. Skeptics, though, wonder whether significant numbers of militants will stop fighting when they believe they’re winning.
…Details of the program have not been worked out. But Stanekzai said that in addition to protection, insurgents willing to join the reintegration program will be given access to jobs mainly through new or existing community development programs and industrial projects across the country.
“Vocational training also should be combined with a de-radicalization process,” Stanekzai said. “They have been trained and brainwashed by very radical religious leaders.”
Abdul Salam Zaeef, former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, said there is no economic solution to quelling the insurgency.
“It is not possible to separate Taliban fighters from leadership,” he said. “Those who come to the government will come only for money. They are not real Taliban. The government wants to buy people with the reintegration program. This is a kind of corruption.”
Early estimates say the program will cost at least $600,000 and could approach $1 billion in the first three years, depending on how many Taliban decide to give up their AK-47s for legal employment, Stanekzai said.
Some former insurgents may receive stipends to help them get back on their feet in society, but the thrust of the program centers on community development. according to international officials familiar with the program. Village elders will vouch for insurgents who give up and the international community will work to send development money into those areas with the idea that the money would benefit entire communities.
The program will be partially backed by USAID and money from a fund that enables U.S. commanders to dole out cash for short-term humanitarian projects. Donor nations are expected to pledge additional funds, earmarked specifically for reintegration, as early as the London conference.
Getting the Taliban’s top echelon to the negotiating table is a tough sell. Taliban leaders say they won’t even consider reconciliation talks until foreign troops leave the country, and right now, 37,000 more U.S. and NATO reinforcements are being sent to the war.
…Afghan expert Michael Semple, who has negotiated with mid-level Taliban commanders before, said there are pragmatists in the insurgent network, including some who sit on Omar’s 10-member council, but that their voices are weak.
“There are pragmatists, who understand that a continuation of the conflict will only cause more destruction. They can be persuaded to talk,” said Semple, a fellow at Harvard University’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy.
“Forget the notion of defeating the insurgents,” Semple said. “What you have to do is persuade them that there is no possibility of the regime collapsing and in a war of attrition they don’t win. The next step is to find someone with whom the Taliban, including Omar, will talk.”
Any talks without Omar will yield only piecemeal peace pacts with Taliban who have no authority over the bulk of the fighters, said Muttawakil and another former Taliban minister, Arsala Rahmani.
2010-01-18 18:46:08 UTC