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.
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At first, the commander was hesitant, but Mr. Ismail persisted. "I told him that none of us want the Americans here," he continued, "but fighting isn't a solution, because the war will just go on forever."Skip to next paragraph
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The meeting, with 18 tribesmen from the government side, continued for some time. Finally, another elder pointed his finger at the commander and said, "If you keep fighting, the Americans will keep attacking our village and our civilians will suffer. We will hold you responsible."
The combination of intense military pressure from the international forces, the prospect of a job, and the discontent of his tribal peers finally pushed commander Ghafor to defect, his men say. He brought nearly 60 fighters over to the government side.
Breakthrough remains tenuous
Many of the fighters who broke with the insurgency say that disillusionment with the government, treatment at the hands of the international forces, and poor economic prospects were the main reasons they joined the insurgency.
Mawlawi Fazlullah, one of the defectors, says, "Most of us are locals who, due to some problem or another, headed to the mountains to fight." Mr. Fazlullah says he joined the insurgency after disappointment at a venal government and the lack of economic progress in his area.
His comrade, Rahman, who like many other Afghans goes by only one name, joined the insurgency after repeated house-to-house searches by the Americans. "I called government officials and asked them to make the Americans stop, but nothing happened," he recalls. "I realized that I can't support the foreigners or the government as long as this continues."
Elders warn that the fighters' grievances must be met. Mullah Muhammad, governor of Alasay District, says resentment with the government and foreign troops is high, and if they don't deliver a better existence, the dissidents might rejoin the rebellion. "Most people here are not happy with the foreign troops," he says. "Others are fed up with the joblessness. Some want to protect their religion from foreign corruption."
Reconciliation or ruse?
As tribal leaders and government officials gather in a room in the district center of Alasay to discuss the reconciliation process, they quickly start pointing fingers.
"The Americans kill our women and children. They enter our houses. They violate our privacy!" shouts Hajji Arif, head of the Peace and Reconciliation Commission here. "How can you expect our people to not fight?" The other elders clamor in agreement.
"The central government doesn't care about this mountainous district, and it never has!" shouts another.
Others say agencies such as the Peace and Reconciliation Commission are part of the problem. Since 2005, the commission claims to have reconciled with nearly 4,000 fighters. It has lost track of most of these, however. Some critics charge that many of the surrendered were never with the insurgency or lied about surrendering to get a payment.
"The commission only beefs up the Taliban," says Fazel Sancharaki, spokesman of National Front, a leading political opposition group. "They give out money so people come and denounce the Taliban, get payments, and then go and rejoin the Taliban."
Kabul-based political analyst Waheed Muzdja adds, "They get an immunity letter from the government and once they have it, they go back to their old business of fighting."
In many cases, the commission is unable to provide the jobs it promised to those fighters who genuinely want to reconcile, analysts say. Mr. Muzdja believes the government and the Americans must revamp the reconciliation program by making it more transparent and accountable.
Meanwhile, the former insurgents of Alasay have more immediate concerns.
"Before, I was only afraid of the Americans and the government," says Fazlullah. "But now I am afraid of the Taliban and the Americans. If anything happens to the American soldiers, they will know where to find me, and they will come and take me for interrogation. And if the insurgents find me, they will call me a traitor and behead me."