In remote Afghan valley, a rare peace sprouts with insurgents
Promises of cash and jobs – rather than ideological pledges – help prompt fighters to lay down their arms. But questions remain about the program's efficacy.
Deep in a mountain valley north of Kabul, Gulab Shah and his fellow insurgents were under siege. It was mid-March, and a French-led military offensive had been pounding their village night after night. A few of his comrades managed to escape into the surrounding mountains, but most were killed.Skip to next paragraph
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In the midst of these battles, a progovernment tribal leader met with Mr. Shah's men and made them an appealing offer: Stop fighting, and we will give you amnesty and a job. The men cautiously accepted.
They joined a program aimed at reconciling rank-and-file insurgents with the government, an initiative that figures to be a central component in the Obama administration's strategy to stabilize this country. Local tribal elders credit this reconciliation process, together with the French-led military offensive, for a stark turnaround in the security situation here.
Across the country, violence has soared this year by 79 percent compared with a similar period last year, according to statistics provided by Sami Kovanen of the firm Tundra Security. But Kapisa Province is one of the few where violence has decreased. Insurgent presence has markedly diminished since the offensive and reconciliation efforts, which took place last month.
President Hamid Karzai, who officially confirmed he will run for reelection in August, on Monday hosted British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to discuss strategy. Mr. Brown said the West's security "depends on stability in the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan," which he called "the crucible of terrorism." Washington, which believes that the majority of insurgents are not primarily motivated by an extremist ideology, hopes it may be able to lure such fighters to the government side.
"There may be some who could be considered extremists," says Shah, speaking of his fellow fighters, "but most of us are just ordinary people wanting the same things that all human beings want, such as jobs and well-being for our families."
Cash and jobs instead of guns
The Afghan government, through an agency called the Peace and Reconciliation Commission, has mediated with hundreds of insurgents. Since its founding in 2005, the commission has even enticed some insurgent commanders to switch sides. In addition, a parallel effort is under way with the US-funded Afghan Social Outreach Program, an agency associated with the office of the president.
Both programs aim to win over insurgents with cash and promises of jobs and land. In Logar Province, for example, nearly three dozen fighters defected in March, and those without land were promised plots.
Here in Alasay Valley, a restive district a two-hour trip north of Kabul, government-backed mediation efforts had floundered for months. The presence of insurgent group Hizb-i-Islami and the Taliban had grown tremendously here, in Kapisa Province, over the past couple of years. By last year, most of the Alasay Valley was under militant control.
But in a series of offensives this year Western forces were able to dislodge the guerrillas and reassert control in parts of the valley. Normally, when this happens, the insurgents regroup and attempt to reclaim territory,
In this case, however, tribal elders offered an olive branch to the besieged fighters. Muhammad Ismail, a tribe leader and former insurgent during the Soviet days, approached a local guerrilla commander, Ghafor Khan. "I told him that we will create job opportunities and bring education. I told him I spent time in prison for fighting jihad, so I know his feelings."