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5 July 2013, Gateway House

Kabul Diary: The sustainability of the reintegration programme

Kabul Diary is a compilation of experiences and observations by Gateway House’s Rajeshwari Krishnamurthy, who is visiting Afghanistan. In her third entry, she writes about the Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program, and the negative perception about Pakistan amongst the locals.

Assistant Director, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies

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Pakistan image in Kabul

As much as respect and proximity the Afghans feel for India, every single one of them harbours a sense of loathing towards Pakistan – in equal, or more measure.

This is not a result of an anti-Pakistan propaganda by India, or due to an India-Pakistan proxy war in Afghanistan – as William Dalrymple infamously explained last month. The onus for this poor perception is completely on Islamabad.

This week, while exploring the hillside overlooking Kabul city, behind the Wazir Akbar Khan neighbourhood, an officer of the Afghan National Police patrolling the area walked up to me; he looked at the camera slung by my shoulder and asked, “Indian or Pakistani?” “Indian,” I replied. He checked my passport, and his expression changed from that of doubt and a frown, to a smile. “Would you like some tea?” he asked, and added, “Had you been a Pakistani, I wouldn’t have allowed you to proceed.”

It’s not just the government that doesn’t trust Pakistan. The government machinery and the rest of the country are made up of regular Afghans who have suffered due to the Taliban – which has a safe-house in Pakistan.

Why do the villagers from interior provinces of Afghanistan take up arms, you may ask. Interestingly enough, those Afghan villagers joining the ranks of the Taliban are mostly unaware of the role Pakistan plays in the insurgency.

India could not possibly have influenced the whole population of Afghanistan to have a sense of resentment towards Pakistan. The scale is too large for the small Indian community present in the country to even think of achieving that.

“I was told that the infidels have invaded the country, and we have to wage jihad to expel them. We were instructed to bomb public places and cause trouble. We did what we were asked to do, but when we found out that the orders were coming from Pakistan, we decided to quit and join the Afghan government’s peace process,” says Yar Mohammed, a former Taliban insurgent, who recently gave up arms to join the peace and reintegration program.

In recent weeks, there have been increased attacks in the capital and the security situation in the southern provinces continues to be tense. However, although there is a general anxiety in the country regarding the 2014-pullout by U.S. troops, the government’s non-arms-based efforts at calming the situation appear to be going on in full capacity.

The fate of the reintegration programme

The Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program (APRP), which was kick-started by incumbent President Hamid Karzai in June 2010 – to negotiate with the insurgents to give up arms, and to reintegrate them into society – has seen measurable results. So far, close to 7,200 insurgents have given up arms and joined the peace process – a much higher success rate when compared to those of Colombia or Nepal.

The High Peace Council of Afghanistan (HPC), and the Provincial Peace Councils (PPC), put more man hours than expected from them to make the APRP a success; often without adequate compensation and infrastructure. Women, especially, in all the provinces have rolled up their sleeves and are undertaking every initiative in their capacity to ensure the APRP’s success. After all, they are the first to be affected in every conflict, and in Afghanistan, their security, freedoms, and rights depend completely on keeping the insurgents at bay.

However, despite all the efforts towards reconciliation and reintegration, there are some fundamental issues that hinder the process now, and have the potential to render it unsustainable in the future.

This week, at a workshop arranged by the Research Institute for Women Peace and Security, an NGO based in Kabul, women members from 30 PPCs agreed that the lack of communication between the Provincial Peace Councils and the High Peace Council is a major stumbling block for the APRP.

Additionally, despite several efforts, the Afghan government’s inadequacies in providing security and sustainable jobs to the reintegrated members of insurgent groups could prove to be a problem in the future.

The reintegratees also claim that they face a difficult time if they approach the Afghan Police in case of a problem. “Since we surrendered to the Peace Councils and not to the police, when we approach the police in case of a problem, it is not followed up. This is rather troublesome,” says Yar Mohammed.

Many reintegratees believe they will be employed in the armed forces of the country, given their experience in warfare. However, security concerns prevent this from happening, and rightfully so. Without proper jobs to offer, and the absence of skills to tap, the government has to pay them a monthly stipend – which can pressurise the already wrung economy to a great extent. An alternative would be to teach them new skills such as carpentry and masonry, skills which are much needed as the country is being rebuilt. The reintegratees can also return to farming, but will be unable to return to their villages where the insurgents still have a presence.

This issue has already begun to reveal its difficulties. . Many reintegratees have not received their monthly stipends; this combined with the threat to their lives from the enemies within the insurgent ranks they recently left, make it difficult for them to live and earn in mainstream society. It also works against them when they try to invite their former ‘colleagues’ to surrender – they don’t have a successful re-integration effort to show them.

Unless the sustainability of the reintegration program is ensured by smart and creative policies and structured skill-building exercises, the achievements of the APRP can fall apart.

Gul Nazak, a former insurgent and a recent entrant to the peace process says, “The government must either give us jobs, or a stipend, or some other means of livelihood. They should make sure that whatever the form of compensation they give us, it must continue. We have invited many of those in the enemy lines to surrender, but if this sad state of affairs for the reintegration continues, it will be very difficult to get them to do so. The security situation of the country is going to be much worse than what it was during the Taliban rule, when the foreign troops leave. We want them to stay.”

Note:  The author is thankful to the Research Institute for Women Peace and Security for facilitating the interview.

Rajeshwari Krishnamurthy is the Content Manager at Gateway House. 

This blog was exclusively written for Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations. You can read more exclusive content here.

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