5,000 Afghan 'militants' have surrendered - but are they real?
Officials say the Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program has brought stability to several areas. But critics say the real anti-government fighters aren't participating.
Puli Khumri, Afghanistan
As part of an effort to end the Afghan war peacefully, the Afghan government developed a program to get low- and mid-level fighters to lay down their weapons and reintegrate with society.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
With more than 5,000 individuals reintegrated so far, many Afghan and international officials say the program has helped bring stability to several areas.
Still, the program, which is almost two years old, may possess a fatal flaw: It’s unclear if everyone who reintegrates is actually an insurgent. Many Afghans say they worry that a number of locals are pretending to be insurgents to take advantage of the reintegration program’s incentives.
“This process has failed. It is not successful. There’s been no clear definition of who the enemy is and that’s why things are not clear,” says Mehdi, a member of parliament from Baghlan, who like many Afghans only has one name. “It’s a shame to admit that this is a problem, but unfortunately it’s a really bad thing that is happening all over Afghanistan.”
Those who reintegrate agree to renounce violence, cut ties with insurgent and terrorist groups, and support the Afghan constitution. In exchange, they receive a transitional stipend of $120 per month for three months. Communities who then agree to accept re-integrees are eligible for development grants.
The program is Afghan-run, but financially supported by international donors. In 2012 it received $123.7 million from 12 international donors, with Japan and the US shouldering the lion’s share of the cost, $52 million and $50 million respectively.
The example of 'insurgent' Wali
Earlier this month in Afghanistan’s northern Baghlan Province, Commander Abdul Wali and about 40 of his fighters became some of the nation’s most recent re-integrees. Mr. Wali, however, admits he was never much of an insurgent.
During Afghanistan’s civil war, he battled the Taliban, fighting under the storied Northern Alliance commander Ahmad Shah Massoud. An ethnic Tajik, he is an opponent of the extremist group, which draws about 95 percent of its fighters from Afghanistan’s Pashtun community.
After the US invasion, he became a district police commander in Baghlan’s remote Firing district, a position he enjoyed until about two years ago when he was involved in a shooting that left a civilian dead. Mr. Wali says he was innocent, and a police investigation confirmed his side of the story – that the victim died fighting in a local feud.
The case never went to trial and Wali says that he stepped down as police commander and broke ties with the government amid mounting accusations. In protest, about 40 men from his community joined with him to form an opposition group. Unlike most insurgents, Wali and his men say they never fired a shot, nor did they plan to. Most people in the community agree they were never a threat to locals or international forces.
“We just cut relations with the government. We didn’t try to help the government, but we didn’t try to kill Muslims, send suicide bombers, or place IEDs. We did nothing,” says Wali.
Wali did act as the government in his area, settling local disputes and addressing any other community problems. Though villagers could have turned to district government officials, it’s common throughout Afghanistan for locals to seek out tribal elders like Wali rather than the government, especially in remote areas.
But Wali’s men lacked a clear agenda. “We didn’t have any goals,” says Tahrir Hamidi, who was unemployed when he joined Wali. “When we left the government, I didn’t think that we’d be away from the government for too long, and I believed that we would not fight against the government.”
Fresh-faced and recently showered, Mr. Hamidi, like most of Wali’s followers, does not look like the normal, weathered opposition fighter who has spent years living in the mountains. He says that when he was supporting Wali, he continued to do what he’d done most of the time he was unemployed, spending most of his time at home.