New plan to woo Afghan Taliban could harm villages
Kabul is proposing to reward villages whose Afghan Taliban fighters surrender by disbursing cash through councils that already oversee aid money. Critics say that would make the councils Taliban targets.
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The draft document, circulating in Kabul as the Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program, envisions delivering aid to home villages of former Taliban fighters. The money would be spent by elected village councils set up under the National Solidarity Program (NSP) – widely seen as one of the few bright spots in Afghan reconstruction.
On Tuesday, US special envoy Richard Holbrooke pressed the Afghan government to finalize a draft plan and get it up and running before a Kabul conference on July 20.
But international aid groups involved in the NSP say that the current draft plan would militarize the civilian program, making themselves and the village councils a target for the Taliban. They warn the plan would diminish participation in the NSP just as it begins to show success boosting Afghan attitudes about their government.
The disarmament plan "might be perceived by the opposition as a hostile measure for recruitment of combatants. Every organization associated with that project will be considered an enemy," says Laurent Saillard, head of the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief, a consortium for nongovernmental organizations.
"It would affect one of the few successful programs in the country and reduce further the access to the population," he adds.
An aid program that delivers
The NSP works by making small grants of around $30,000 to villages across the country and allowing them to choose which projects to pursue. The program, which has reached 70 percent of the country's villages, is run by Afghanistan's Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD) and funded by international donors including the United States and the World Bank.
Each village is teamed up with an NGO, known as a facilitating partner, that helps run a local election for the council and develop the village's list of project priorities. It also provides engineering assistance.
In the village of Sakha in northeastern Afghanistan, all 118 families now have electricity for the first time after residents decided to spend their NSP funds on a micro-hydro turbine. The project was finished six months ago for less than $50,000 with the help of Afghan Aid, an international NGO.
Before the election of Sakha's council, called a shura, the villagers had no leaders. Now the shura has become a point of contact between the Afghan government, NGOs working on development projects, and the villagers. It's even become a local court of sorts.
"Whenever there is a dispute or a conflict between two or three among the community, first we try to solve that issue in our shura," says Baz Mohammad, the shura chief. "After NSP, we learned to send applications and requests to organizations and the government … we know where to go to get help."
The Taliban reintegration program envisions giving these councils another task: taking reward money for local Taliban fighters who surrender and spending it to benefit the entire village – including the ex-combatants and their victims. The former fighters might also stand for election to the shuras.
The Karzai government developed the draft plan with the help of NATO specialists under Gen. Phil Jones, the director of the Force Reintegration Cell in Kabul.